Editor’s Note: Physician, Heal Thyself

Editor’s Note: Physician, Heal Thyself

For decades, the Upper Valley has been wrestling with the many complex questions of economic growth. Among them: Which industries will drive the region’s economic future, and where will those industries find the workers they need?

For decades the answer to the first question has been, in large part, health care — specifically, the health network now known as Dartmouth-Hitchcock. The system’s anchor is Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, the gleaming green-and-white edifice perched upon a hill along Route 120 in Lebanon and visible from Interstate 91 across the Connecticut River in Vermont.

Long the region’s economic engine, the D-H system is the largest private employer in the state of New Hampshire, with more than 9,000 full- and part-time employees.

And that, as correspondent Patrick O’Grady details in this month’s cover story, is where the second question comes in: If D-H is to continue to grow and prosper and serve its communities, it’s going to need a reliable source of new workers. So where — in a region with an unemployment rate of 3 percent — will these workers come from?

A couple of years ago, D-H officials realized the situation had become critical. They had hundreds of job openings to fill, hundreds more were about to open when current employees retired, and patient care was likely to suffer if something wasn’t done, and soon. These jobs — coders, assistants, technicians — are vital to keeping the system operating smoothly. They move the paperwork along. They make sure patients get the right medications. They let doctors and nurses do the doctoring and nursing they were trained to do.

And the health network was having a heck of a time finding — and keeping — competent, trained, committed workers to fill those jobs, despite their average annual wage of $32,000.

The economic engine needed a jump-start.

The answer turned out to be an old one: apprenticeships. Instead of simply posting job openings and hoping the right people applied, D-H partnered with the Williston, Vt.-based workforce training and consulting firm Vermont HITEC to develop an in-house program of coursework and on-the-job training.

Fast forward to November, and D-H celebrates the training — and hiring — of more than 100 new medical assistants, pharmacy technicians, medical coders and registration representatives through its Workforce Readiness Institute. Plans are afoot to expand the program.

As Sarah Currier, DHMC’s director of workforce development, told O’Grady, “What we’re doing here is … finding other ways to open doors to careers in health care, and the sky’s the limit.”

It’s not exactly “physician, heal thyself,” but it’s close.

Ernie Kohlsaat

Author: Ernie Kohlsaat

Ernie Kohlsaat is the editor of Enterprise, and of the Sunday Valley News. He can be reached at ekohlsaat@vnews.com or 603-727-3302.

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