When Harper Garrett, CMA (AAMA), caught wind that medical assistants at Children’s Hospital Colorado needed a boost of recognition, she initiated a series of leadership classes.

“The intention is to help medical assistants build upon their strengths, so they feel empowered in their role and know they have a voice.”

As the medical assistant education and practice coordinator for the hospital, Garrett arranged for the system’s 140 medical assistants to take six courses over six months about topics ranging from building character strengths and communication skills to understanding the difference between empathy and sympathy. Medical assistants also participate in team-building activities, such as the Marshmallow Challenge.

“They are put into groups to see who can create the biggest tower. Then we reflect back on who took a leadership role and how they worked together,” explains Garrett. The kicker: they must use 20 sticks of spaghetti, one yard of tape, one yard of string, and one marshmallow, which needs to go on top—and it’s timed. “It’s fun and insightful.”

The free, three-hour classes take place during work hours and are led by the hospital’s ambulatory nursing educator and associate clinical managers. Each class includes a 20-minute lecture, hands-on activities, videos, and work sheets.

“Everyone seems to really like the classes. We’re hearing them say that they are engaging and fun, and I think offering the classes makes medical assistants feel valued in the organization,” says Garrett.

She also helps the hospital show appreciation for its medical assistants by offering on-site continuing education opportunities. Garrett organizes the sessions by reaching out to medical assistants and asking what topics they are interested in and then teaming up with the AAMA to provide at least five CEU classes per year.

“We typically have a great turnout and find the medical assistants often reach out wanting more,” Garrett says. “It’s great to help all of our medical assistants keep up on their certification. They are very happy they don’t have to go anywhere else to get their credits, and we try to offer three or four sessions of each class just to accommodate different schedules.”

In addition to advocating for medical assistants already employed by the hospital, Garrett also manages the medical assisting practicum program. She works with the medical assisting program directors at local community colleges to recruit and host individuals for practicums. She also attends the schools’ advisory meetings to provide insight.

“Sometimes I’ll go to the schools and talk about the profession and practicum and answer any questions students have if the schools want me to,” says Garrett.

Last year, she arranged for 36 medical assisting students to participate in practicums throughout the hospital’s ambulatory, primary care, and specialty clinics. About 39% of those students were hired after their practicum.

While Garrett works day-in and day-out to recruit, maintain, and inspire medical assistants to reach their potential at Children’s Hospital Colorado, she says her drive comes from a deep pride in the profession. After working in different clinical roles as a medical assistant for three years, she says she longed for a position that would allow her to lead other medical assistants.

“When this job opened up, it seemed perfect,” Garrett says. “I want medical assistants to know how valuable their work is and to feel like they are an important part of the team. I get to do that every day.”