Mercy Medical Center is preparing employees for the future.
The hospital launched the Grow with Us education program earlier this year through a partnership with Stark State College.
Through the program, Mercy employees can earn a degree in an in-demand medical field at no cost -- Mercy covers tuition, textbooks, fees and other expenses. In exchange, the employee agrees to work at Mercy in the new capacity for at least three years.
"The goal of the program is to entice and encourage employees to move into careers that we think we'll need," said Charity Davis, human resources manager .
Mercy wants to invest in employees who are genuinely interested in advancing their careers, she added. "Because if you are, we're willing to put our money behind you."
Mercy covers the expenses while Stark State assists with scheduling and classes, as well as helping employees navigate college as non-traditional students.
"Stark State is used to working with adult learners," Davis said, adding that they do a good job helping with new student jitters.
The program is open to full- and part-time employees who have been with the health care system for at least 90 days and are in good standing. Employees go through an application process that includes shadowing their chosen field or department for at least two hours.
Applicants can be from any area of the hospital, Davis said, adding that some participants already have bachelor's or master's degrees.
Employees quickly responded to the program. The first class of 44 employees was accepted in March.
Most of them are in the nursing field, Davis said.
Mercy identified careers, both in and out of patient care, that the hospital will need to fill in the future. Those careers include nursing, medical assistant, phlebotomist, medical laboratory technology, medical billing, medical coding, medical instrument sterilization (sterile processing), surgical technologists, surgical assisting, paramedics and EMTs.
Medical assistant in particular is a high-demand field, Davis said.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for medical assistants is expected to grow by 29 percent between 2016 and 2026, much faster than average.
Medical assistants made a median of $33,610 annually in 2018, according to the bureau.
Mercy is dedicated to reviewing and adjusting its list every semester based on feedback from employees and Stark State, she said.
Employees already have stated a need for physical therapy assistants, she said.
The hope is that the program continues to grow.
"We're really excited about it," Davis said.
"It's just become a huge program for us. A really very successful program. We're very fortunate to have the organization support our employees like that."