East Central College is offering a new program for the 2013 spring semester — medical assistant.

The program was approved by the department of higher education last fall and is designed to meet the medical community’s need to employ certified medical assistants. Qualifications for the new degree have been determined based on the standards used for the accreditation of educational programs in medical assisting.

ECC also offers the associate of applied science degree as well as a certificate of achievement in medical assistance.

The medical assistant program replaces the deactivated medical secretary program that was offered at East Central for many years.

Mary Beth Huxel, chairperson for the business, education, social science and technology division at ECC, said she is excited to offer new opportunities to local students.

“Currently community members have to drive into the St. Louis area to receive training toward the CMA,” she said. “This will allow them to stay in their community as they work toward attaining this career goal.”

Amber Dunn has been hired as the full-time faculty member for the department. Dunn has worked as a registered medical assistant and nurse for many years. She previously taught medical assistant classes at Everest College, Springfield, and the St. Louis College of Health Careers.

Dunn will teach three classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays this spring: administrative procedures, interpersonal and communication skills and clinical setting procedures.

Huxel explained the expectations of a medical assistant position can vary.

“Medical assistants directly influence the public’s health and well-being,” she said. “They are multi-skilled professionals specifically educated to work in ambulatory settings performing administrative and clinical duties.”

A program graduate may be asked to perform specific tasks such as phone support, bookkeeping, coordinating appointments, interacting with patients, coding paper and electronic health files and completing insurance forms, Huxel said.

“Some medical assistants also take patient vital signs and help with injections, examinations and lab test preparations under a doctor’s supervision, thereby enabling physicians to focus on direct patient care.”

Space at the Union campus has been converted to a mock office and exam room for spring courses.

Upon completion of a self-study, ECC will apply to the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) for accreditation.

“We anticipate (that) being a two-year process,” Huxel said.