Goodwill Trains Students for Health Care Careers

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – When her daughter was born 24 weeks prematurely, Corinna Neal had to quit her job as a waitress to care for her full time. 

Three years later, Neal is ready to return to the workforce, but doesn’t want to go back to food service.

“I was in this place where I was just stuck with a career,” she says.

At her family’s suggestion, Neal enrolled in the health care training program offered by Youngstown Area Goodwill Industries Inc. Through a partnership with MedCerts, a Michigan-based online training organization, Goodwill provides five programs: certified medical assistant, patient care technician, phlebotomy technician, pharmacy technician, and medical front office assistant and administrative specialist.

Because it’s a blend of online and classroom learning, Neal says she is able to stay home with her daughter when she needs to and still stay on track. Neal is in the third and final portion of the six-month medical front office assistant and administration specialist program. She will be ready to begin her job search by the end of November.

“It’s a great career choice,” she says. “It gets your foot in the door and there’s endless directions and possibilities you can do with these certifications.”

The programs are approved by the National Healthcareer Association and include a combination of certifications to give students a marketable skill set, says Melanie Martin, MedCerts regional workforce development manager.

The medical administrative assistant certification is usually necessary for many health care positions, she says. In addition to front office positions, it can lead to jobs in hospital admissions, patient registration or unit clerk, as well as positions with medical supply companies and insurance companies, she says.

“Medical assistants are like the jack of all trades in a medical office,” Martin says. “They have both administrative duties and clinical duties. And they can also be a practice manager.”

In turn, the billing and coding specialist certification teaches students to extract information from medical records that relate to a patient’s procedure, diagnosis and symptoms so one can bill for it. With it, students can take administrative roles with medical front office work.

Diversity in the training is key to filling high-need positions in the Mahoning Valley, says Emily McHenry, director of mission services for Goodwill Youngstown. Health care professionals are in high demand at all levels in the region, she says.

“Employers are hungry for well-rounded employees. Folks who have the skills and knowledge, but also those soft skills to be successful with their colleagues and their supervisors,” McHenry says. “They’re looking for people coming out of this program to fill these urgent need spots.”

According to the 2026 Ohio Job Outlook Employment Projections compiled by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, it’s estimated that health care and social assistance industries will add 135,631 Ohio jobs from 2016 to 2026.

In the Youngstown-Warren region, a recent report by Burning Glass Technologies found more than 1,000 health care-related positions were posted within the last year.

Those projections are what drove the partnership between Goodwill and MedCerts, Martin says. Grants funded by the Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act allow the organizations to provide the training for free to eligible candidates. Programs range from $2,000 to $4,000 and the grant covers the full cost, including books, materials and exams.

MedCerts is approved for federal funding in 36 states and has graduated more than 25,000 students nationally, she says. Since 2009, it’s enjoyed an 89% exam pass rate.

Locally, 57 students are enrolled in different stages of the program, with another 10 going through the funding process. Prospects apply at Ohio Means Jobs, the Mahoning and Columbiana Training Association or the Trumbull County Department of Job and Family Services. Then the office determines if they are eligible for the grants.

“Students are able to start throughout the year because we don’t rely on semesters,” Martin says. “We can get students started within two weeks of them being approved for the funding.”

To complete the training, students must commit to the 19-week program with 16 to 20 hours weekly, at least six of which must be in the classroom, she says.

Students can choose their in-class training in three-hour time slots in the morning or afternoon, McHenry says. Goodwill staff members check in with students regularly and help them prepare for their final exams.

Thus far, a few of the students have been certified and a few others are already working, she says. Others are in the process of searching for a job or are stacking this training program with other Goodwill programs.

Students come from across the region and are diverse, McHenry says. Some are out-of-work parents while others are underemployed and “working three to four jobs just to pay the bills,” she says.

“Many of them are dislocated workers, folks who were laid off due to COVID and looking for that bright spot after they get that training,” she says. “We also have students who may be experienced in the health care field and are looking for a change in their careers.”

Goodwill couples the MedCerts training with a customer service retail training program offered through CVS, McHenry adds. A simulation lab gets students familiar with serving customers who represent the diverse Youngstown community.

“We simulate real life examples of upset and angry customers and the really nice customers as well,” McHenry says. “So they are developing those tools to work with anybody who might come through the front door.”

Coupling such programs allows essential skills to be baked into the training, McHenry says.

Students complete modules with soft skills offered through Goodwill Industries International, including Microsoft Office training. Resume development and job search techniques offered through MedCerts programming are enhanced by additional Goodwill training.

“We know that if they enter a job – that’s the goal – after this program, it’s not likely it will be their last job,” McHenry says. “We want to make sure they have the skills for their future profession and career. Not just for tomorrow.”

Job placement is Goodwill’s “bread and butter,” she says, and the organization is working with area employers to develop internships for students in the program. It also brings employers into the classroom for interview preparation and so students can build their network.

“The great thing about this partnership is that the students not only get that support from us. But they also get that support from MedCerts. And they also have a career consultant at Ohio Means Jobs and Job and Family Services,” McHenry says. “There’s this triangle – the strongest shape there is – of a support network for each student.”

As for Neal, she says, the program put her in a good position for success and is eager to begin the job search.

“I’m so happy to be a part of this program. Everyone that I’ve come in contact with wants me to succeed and wants me to have everything I need to succeed,” she says. “And that, I am just grateful for.”

Pictured: Amy Zell, an instructor at the Youngstown Area Goodwill, is training Corinna Neal to become a medical office assistant.