By Alexander Germanis
Anybody who is familiar with the production of stage plays knows the actors performing onstage make up only a small percentage of the people who are actually necessary to the production of the performance. There are many more people who work behind the scenes to make certain everything moves smoothly and the audience’s experience is as pleasant and positive as possible.
There are those who work behind the scenes in the medical profession as well —those who navigate each patient through the labyrinthine waters of the modern healthcare system. Although doctors and nurses may often be considered the “performers,” those who work behind the scenes are an essential part of any healthcare facility.
At Midstate College in Peoria, the Allied Health Programs are designed to educate, prepare, and train those people who are looking for a career in those significant and necessary portions of the medical field.
A history of career education
“Midstate College has been around a long time,” says Meredith Bunch, the college’s president and CEO. “We were founded in 1888, but our history goes back to 1857, [making us] the oldest college in Peoria. We have been focused on adult learning and career education since that time.”
With an average student age of 32, Midstate is not what one would call a “traditional” institute of higher learning. Offering a variety of degrees and diplomas within the health information field, Midstate is career-focused, truly preparing its students for careers with over 90 percent of its graduates finding work in their chosen fields.
Whether one is a people person or works best on one’s own, there are a variety of career paths for which Midstate College can provide a thorough education.
Health services management
Overseeing the health services management department is Amber Schappaugh, PhD, Director of Allied Health at Midstate College.
The first people you see when you visit the doctor and the last you see when you leave are those who have completed programs like those in Amber’s department. “With health services management, there’s more patient face-to-face contact,” she says. “You’re going to be dealing with the patient a little more actively.”
One such path preparing a student for that patient interaction is the medical office technician. Actually a medical reception program, the medical office technician diploma is earned by those who want to be that greeting face for the patients who enter the medical office. “They take money, insurance, and they’re trained how to do some coding,” Amber describes. “They can be medical secretaries — that front office person — and they can be a medical office assistant if they want to be trained a little further.”
Another program designed for those who wish to go further is the health service management program. A Bachelor of Science degree, it is designed for those with a desire to work in a clinic or hospital setting, educating and preparing a student for an entry-level position. “Most people who get this degree will go on to get even higher graduate degrees,” Amber shares. “They can work as a medical service or clinic manager; I have one who works in human resources. So, they get lots of different information and backgrounds so they can work in a variety of settings.”
The pharmacy technician program, another entry-level position, works under a licensed pharmacist. “They’re the ones who take your script, put it into the computer system, fill it, and check you out,” Amber says. “They do everything in between — the billing, the coding — but they have to work under that licensed pharmacist who checks all of their work.”
But, as Amber says, these programs can just be the start of something bigger. “I’ve had some of students move on to get their masters degree,” she shares. “Occasionally they decide they want to be nurses and they go on to get their nursing degree. They continue to strive toward becoming better, more educated, and moving forward in their career choices.”
Health information management
For every person who likes to be out front and interacting with the public, there is someone who also wishes to contribute but works best under more solitary conditions. For them, the Director of Health Information Management, Leah Grebner, PM, has a series of programs ideally suited for the healthcare-oriented, self-motivated individual.
Health information administration is a Bachelor of Science degree for non-clinicians to join the medical field. “These are the behind-the-scenes people,” Leah explains. “They’re going to be doing management positions: information security, compliance, and privacy. They may be educators, data quality managers, or maybe even the director of the health information management department.”
If you are not looking for a four-year program but still want to go into the same field, the health information technology associate degree program might be a better fit. “These would be coders, health information technicians and insurance processors,” Leah says.
There is also a place for those who like a little patient interaction. “Patient access representatives meet the patient and go over some of their insurance information, making sure they have their medical necessity met for their physician office visit. They also work with release of information,” Leah describes. “If you need a copy of your medical records, this is the person you would talk to.”
With accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education (CAHIIM), a graduate of the associate degree program can sit for the Registered Health Information Technologist (RHIT) credential.
Finally, there is the coding and billing diploma. With a full-time commitment, the program can be completed in about a year, preparing the student for an entry-level position at healthcare facilities. Besides coding or billing, this diploma can also prepare the student to work processing insurance claims or even move them along a management track to a position called revenue cycle manager. Such a position involves coding, documentation management and improvement, charge capture, and follow-ups with both the patient and the insurance company to make sure everything is being paid by the proper party.
All three of these programs are stackable, meaning all of them go into the health information administrator bachelor degree program. “It helps students that might be afraid to start off in the [bigger overall] program,” Leah says. “They can start small, work their way up, and won’t lose anything along the way.”
The right path
Before even setting foot in a classroom, each student at Midstate College can find guidance from the admissions team toward the best educational program for them. From the point of admission, Amber and Leah work alongside each student to make sure they know what their options are and what careers are available. “We meet with them again during orientation,” Leah says. “We work closely alongside them to make sure we’re getting a good fit — for placement purposes — for each student.”
Amber illustrates just how important that initial placement can be based on her own experience. “I have a degree in education,” she shares, “but once I student-taught I cried every day because I hated it. It took being four years into a program to realize that was not what I wanted for myself. I moved from Western Illinois University to Midstate College, because there I was — 23, 24 years old — and had no idea what I was going to do next. I had just spent four years of my life going to school for something that wasn’t at all what I could manage.”
Fortunately, Amber found the guidance and path she needed as well as finding a home at Midstate College. Helping find the right path is only part of what Midstate does to accommodate the non-traditional student. As Meredith explains, flexible scheduling is part of each department’s educational course. “We offer day, night, online, and flex learning. Our students have the choice each week of attending online or on campus, depending on what the demands are in their personal life.”
A unique family
Although striking a balance between family life and school life are essential at Midstate College, the faculty considers it just as important to bring some of that family feeling into the school as well.
While part of establishing that feeling involves keeping the class sizes smaller for better student/teacher interaction, department heads like Amber and Leah believe going the extra mile is what family does for one another. Whether it is simply recognizing each student’s face or recognizing and tackling the individual difficulties a student may be having, it is a relationship most other college and university staffs do not bother developing with those in their charge.
“Although we consider our staff and faculty family, most importantly our students echo back to us that they feel they’re a part of a family,” Meredith shares. “That’s one of the things that makes us so unique; it’s one of the things that sets us apart.”
Midstate College fall classes begin August 21st. Register today by visiting midstate.edu.
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