After graduating from a medical assisting program and obtaining his CMA (AAMA)® certification in February 2020, Josh Lehrer, CMA (AAMA), got hired at Hunterdon Healthcare and began training at his practice site, Hunterdon Family Medicine at Philips-Barber.

“While externing, I knew the medical field was for me,” says Lehrer.

And yet, at the end of March, he was furloughed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly a week later, he received an offer at the clinic’s affiliated flagship hospital, Hunterdon Medical Center, to support patients during the COVID-19 pandemic. He accepted and immediately went to work. Dressed in personal protective equipment (PPE) and with a tablet computer in hand, Lehrer visited patients at their bedsides and facilitated virtual meetings with their families.

“Everything was up in the air because this [is] an evolving [situation],” says Lehrer. “We [have] to improvise a lot and be flexible.”

He estimates that 80% of the patients he visited had contracted COVID-19.

“A significant number were intubated, on respirators, or receiving assistance through other life-support medical devices,” states Lehrer. “A small minority did not have COVID-19. [Nevertheless], restrictions on visitors were still in place, so we wanted to do the best we could in connecting patients with their loved ones.”

During his month at the hospital, he also trained two other CMAs (AAMA) in the role. His diligence, compassion, and tireless efforts earned him a Hunterdon Healthcare Hero Award, which included a gift card and chocolate treat.

“It was an honor to receive the award, and the experience is something I’ll never forget. Getting to help people in any way pos­sible during such a difficult and important time was rewarding,” says Lehrer.

Even before getting the role at the hospi­tal, he tried to use his medical assisting skills to help patients dealing with the pandemic by joining the Hunterdon County Medical Reserve Corps.

“I felt I could use my medical assisting skills in some capacity,” explains Lehrer. “By the time they called, I was working at the hospital, but I was able to help once on one of my days off with a phone bank.” When residents called to get tested or follow up about results, he helped direct them. He is also signed up to administer COVID-19 vaccinations.

Additionally, Lehrer joined the Philadelphia Medical Reserve Corps. “On a Saturday in early October [2020], they held an influenza immunization drive-through clinic for first responders and families,” recalls Lehrer. “I volunteered and was selected as a vaccinator to administer the shots.”

His passion to help others goes deep. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 2016, he volunteered with the organization City Year as an AmeriCorps academic coach to help students in an under­served community in San Antonio, Texas. He has also worked at a foster care community, a children’s hospital, a residential treatment lodge for youth, and the lodge’s affiliated psychiatric hospital.

Lehrer believes that the medical field is his true calling and plans to become a nurse practitioner (NP). In fact, before becoming a medical assistant, he was enrolled in an NP program at Vanderbilt University. “I felt I hadn’t developed the right skills yet to pursue that further, so I left and decided to get my CMA (AAMA) [certification] first,” says Lehrer. “I’m glad I did because I’ve learned so much and gained so much confidence in my clinical skills. I genuinely believe that what I’ve gained will help me as a nurse practitioner.”

Lehrer is planning to enroll in an NP program at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, and is set to start in May 2021. Until then, he continues to work for Hunterdon Family Medicine and per diem for a pediatric urgent care network.

“I love kids, and we don’t get to see as many children at Hunterdon Family Medicine. Working as a medical assistant in pediatric urgent care a few times a month is great,” says Lehrer. “When I’m an NP, I hope to be able to work with kids as well as [other age groups].”