Apprenticeship: A debt-free pathway to success

Dartmouth-Hitchcock provides opportunity and training in innovative workforce program

By the time Liz Wright reached the middle of her senior year, college — and her dream of a career in health care — was starting to seem very far away.

“I was scared,” Liz says. “My parents are older and are around retirement age. I didn’t want to get them in a huge amount of debt since they still have my brother to put through some sort of higher education.”

The 18-year-old always wanted to go to college, study biology and then work toward becoming a physician assistant, but taking on substantial student debt seemed unwise.

“I had been accepted into my top choice and a couple other schools, so I knew that I had options,” she said. “But when it came down to money, we just couldn’t make it happen.”

Dartmouth-Hitchcock provided the pathway she was looking for. The Dartmouth-Hitchcock Workforce Readiness Institute (D-H WRI) offers a number of training programs designed to help people launch their career in health care. Since 2014, the D-H WRI has been offering training for Medical Assistants, Pharmacy Technicians, Surgical Technologists, Ophthalmic Assistants and Licensed Nurse Assistants. Over 600 students have graduated through these programs and started their careers within the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health system.

D-H WRI provided the options Liz needed at exactly the right time.

“Health care was the path I knew from childhood that I wanted to go down,” she says. “Growing up, my parents had health challenges. I was really young when I was first introduced to the hospital environment, and I truly respect and admire the people who work to help others. I know that my family was so grateful and relieved when my mom was cancer-free after battling thyroid cancer. Those feelings stuck with me. Knowing that I could be the one comforting families or helping someone in need made it easy to decide on health care for my future career.”

Knowing that she wants to work directly with patients and her future goal is to become a physician assistant, Liz decided to pursue the Medical Assistant Apprenticeship Program. The training program is accelerated and the classroom portion is complete in just 11 weeks. Plus, she was able to earn college credits and start working towards her goal of obtaining a degree. At the end of the program, Liz passed a national certification test and began working in the clinic as a Medical Assistant Apprentice. Apprenticeship is an age-old training methodology that supports on-the-job learning and allows you to earn a salary while building competence and confidence. Liz not only became more assured in her technical skills, but also developed relationships and expanded her professional network.

Craig Beck, Vice President of Operations and Business Development at Dartmouth-Hitchcock, shared that “providing care for patients is all about relationships.  Always has been and always will be – regardless of how technology moves us forward.  Imagine the mom coming in with an infant who is sick, or the child of an elderly parent who is facing difficult decisions, or a patient whose lab results came back negative — Medical Assistants are often the first person who enters an exam room with them at this point in their health care journey and patients rely on them for support, help, and care.”

For Liz, the Medical Assistant role was the perfect fit. It gave her a way to give back — provide help and comfort to others while she continues to work towards her personal career goals.

Most D-H WRI training programs allow students to earn a training wage while they complete the education/training portion of the program. Once they graduate they transition to a full-time role in the health care system. When they are ready to continue their education, Dartmouth-Hitchcock provides tuition reimbursement benefits to help them achieve their degree goals.

“Students who come through our training programs have the opportunity to accelerate their career and gain valuable skills that allow them to grow here at Dartmouth-Hitchcock,” says Bridget Fox, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Workforce Development Specialist. “When you learn directly in the work environment students quickly develop an understanding of how health care works. That understanding, paired with the foundational knowledge and skills taught in the training program, really helps them make decisions about their continued course of study and career path.”

As New Hampshire’s only academic health system, Dartmouth-Hitchcock supports a culture of continuous learning and is committed to welcoming learners into their teams. Bridget explains, “there is an expectation that everyone who works at Dartmouth-Hitchcock is both a teacher and a learner. Health care is constantly changing and we have to learn from each other — everyone’s input matters.”

At Dartmouth-Hitchcock their mission is to care for the people in our communities. Not only do they care for our neighbors, friends, and families; they also care for each other. Their teams are committed to continuous improvement and lifelong learning through career development, cutting-edge medical research, and working with patients on their personal health journeys.

A lot of times young people wonder how to get started or wonder which role or path will be right for them. The team at the D-H WRI tries to make it easy to learn about their programs and pathways. Bridget says,“on a regular basis we host program information sessions. This is a great opportunity for interested participants to come out and learn about the program, the roles, the college pathway, and our organization. Past students also come and share a bit about their experience.” There is a schedule posted on their website ( of upcoming sessions in 2020.

“The success begins in the classroom,” Liz says. Once she started the training program she was given time in class to complete homework, consult with teachers, and balance the workload without piling on unnecessary stress. While she acknowledges that in an accelerated program there is a lot of work to complete in a short period of time, the instructor and program leadership team provide participants with a lot of support and “everything you need.”

“After completing my apprenticeship, I plan on taking things one step at a time,” Wright says. “I may take some courses at a local community college and continue working towards my bachelor’s degree, and hopefully soon (fingers crossed) I’ll be applying to a physician assistant program.”

“The most rewarding part of this whole program is knowing that you’ve done the work, achieved so much, and earned college credits to show for it,” Wright says. “I was able to not only begin a career, but I’ll be finishing my associate degree in June. There is no negative to this program, all positives that can reinforce your knowledge and allow you to build confidence in yourself.”

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