The Spirit of Transparency: A Conversation with NIMAA Externship Partner Chicago Family Health Center

“We want to consider ourselves not only in the community, but we are part of the community. Everyone who walks into the door, you see them as yourself,” says Pasue Mahan, Senior Clinic Manager, Chicago Family Health Center

NIMAA is proud to partner with healthcare organizations that share our vision of transparent and accessible pathways into the healthcare sector. One organization embodying this vision is Chicago Family Health Center (CFHC), which joins NIMAA for its first cohort in Spring 2022.

CFHC has a unique dedication to providing opportunities for leadership development and career advancement for their employees in order to retain an engaged and committed workforce that resembles their very own community.  Mahan describes the organization as one that “operates in the spirit of transparency,” and “stands firmly on…empowerment and growth.”

This mentality is ingrained in CFHC employees for a very important reason. Mahan explains, “When you empower and build upon individuals’ strengths, it brings empowerment to employees, [and that] trickles down into the communities and has an impact on the type of care we provide.”  They believe that their commitment to their staff’s growth has pervasive power to positively affect the care their community receives. 

This type of environment does not happen overnight; it requires intentional development and leadership support, something that CFHC has in abundance. Donna Vance, Executive Assistant at CFHC, recalls a time when “only senior staff was at the table, but over the last few years, it [grew] from senior staff to directors to manager, and now it is everyone.” 

Now CFHC has monthly, bi-monthly, and weekly meetings that allow all staff to voice their opinions and provide feedback on organization-wide decisions. Mahan notes, “If a decision impacts a Medical Assistant, then the leadership team says that an MA needs to be in the room and be involved in the decision-making.”

Leaders at CFHC also provide many opportunities for in-services, training, and conferences for professional development.

Most importantly, the impact that this transparency and involvement have is real—there is much more interaction and engagement within the teams because they know their input matters. According to Vance, staff report “feeling special, feeling important because what they say is being heard and they see it in the decisions being made.”

Supporting Medical Assistant Growth

When it comes to its Medical Assistant staff, CFHC has an innovative structure that facilitates career growth and supports mentorship.  Every clinic has medical assistants that work on the floor and also Lead MA Specialists, who are high performers and proactive problem solvers that act as mentors to junior staff. According to Mahan, MAs are “not only being mentored by someone that you respect and trust but that you have comfort [with]…and someone you know can do what you do, so the conversation sometimes goes smoother.” 

MA Specialists can volunteer for the role, but CFHC also seeks out individuals who may not be confident enough in their abilities to volunteer. Mahan states, “We see high performers, and we encourage them; we let them know the wonderful work they are doing and the different opportunities that we as an organization would like to extend to them and will support them 130% to ensure they are successful.”

CFHC sees participation in NIMAA as an opportunity for their current MA staff to “feel empowered because they are going to be part of someone else’s progress in a role that they are currently working in—they are mentors for individuals in NIMAA,” according to Vance.

Acting on Community Feedback

CFHC has a patient advisory board that provides feedback on what is most important to them and what they want to see done differently in the community. Employment, educational advancement, and choosing a profession are currently top priorities.

CHFC is excited that NIMAA will provide “educational opportunities that they may not have been able to have if not for NIMAA and CFHC, but also will be a part of narrowing that gap to unemployment,” according to Mahan.   

CFHC had the highest number of applicants at an Externship Organization in NIMAA history with over 140 applicants. They marketed the program using the tools and strategies that NIMAA provided as well as their own ingenuity, such as marketing through social media at least three times per week, sending template emails to staff, posting flyers in their clinics, local grocery stores, restaurants, and community organizations, and messaging patients through their patient resource apps.  With the amount of interest from their community, they knew they could not place everyone as NIMAA students, but they wanted to support them through employment.  

CFHC was so dedicated to responding to their community’s need for employment opportunities that they provided all applicants who were not admitted to the NIMAA program opportunities to seek employment at the organization. An amount of interest that could have been overwhelming was exciting and reinvigorating to CFHC. NIMAA shares CFHC’s enthusiasm to connect with community members and support them in finding career pathways that otherwise feel out of reach.

These words from Mahan on behalf of CFHC staff encapsulate their approach to NIMAA: “[We] look forward to progress and bringing joy to the communities [we] serve, including [our] employees.”