La Crosse healthcare systems experiencing shortage of medical assistants

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) – People working in healthcare have felt burnout working their way through the pandemic.

Now a group of workers at Gundersen Health System is feeling even more burnout because of short-staffing.

Gundersen has dozens of openings for medical assistants right now. These are the people who you see prior to your doctor…nurse or physician.

A recruiter from the healthcare system says there are currently anywhere between 25 to 35 MA openings.

Working as a medical assistant requires a positive attitude.

Ingrid Pape has been doing this at Gundersen Health System for 40 years.

“You go home and feel like you made a difference for somebody,” Pape said, a medical assistant.

Doing that means having a connection with the patient.

“It’s just a good feeling to know that you really did something today,” Pape said. “You were a value. You were important.”

But it’s something that’s been more difficult recently because of a shortage in Pape’s field.

“It’s just hard because you’re running in, and you don’t get to spend as much time with each patient,” she said.

Healthcare systems like Gundersen rely heavily on MA’s coming out of tech colleges.

Recruiter Becky Vang says lower student enrollment in those programs is largely why there’s openings.

“In addition to an aging population increase, and then just overall, Gundersen is a growing organization as well,” Vang said.

She says Gundersen’s pay wage for MA’s range from 16 to 20 dollars an hour.

It’s not planning on changing those wages, but that could change.

“On an annual basis, our compensation team does review arranges to make sure we stay competitive in the market,” Vang said.

Vang says without enough MA’s, Gundersen is missing their “various talents.”

“They truly are vital and critical to our medical teams,” Vang said.

The quality of care doesn’t change, and even though Pape’s workload requires some extra effort right now, she says she has loved Gundersen from the beginning.

“I’ve enjoyed Gundersen from day one,” Pape said. “And it’s only gotten better.”

Keeping a positive attitude four decades later.

Vang says in talking with Western Technical College, MA program enrollment for this year is starting to go back up again.

She adds she’s hopeful Gundersen will be able to fill some of its openings in the future with increasing enrollment.

Mayo Clinic Health System in La Crosse is also experiencing a low number of MA applicants right now.

System leaders tell News 8 Now in a statement, “A shortage of healthcare workers is being felt across the entire healthcare field.  Mayo Clinic Health System is noticing a low volume of applicants for medical assistant positions that are available. We continue to work with our education partners in connecting with future medical assistants in the classroom while removing barriers such as certification requirements.  Mayo Clinic Health System provides professional growth opportunities to cross train in multiple disciplines while providing avenues for career growth.  We look to retain and encourage current and future medical assistants to make Mayo Clinic Health System the location to care for patients for years to come.”