Stackable Credentials, Articulation Agreements and Career Pathways:  How NIMAA Delivers on a Vision

By Elena Thomas Faulkner, NIMAA CEO

What makes education pathways more accessible and equitable to historically excluded individuals and communities? Stakeholders in education and healthcare circles around the country are currently discussing this very question, particularly when it comes to creating a healthcare workforce that reflects the communities they serve. While the field is making some progress, it is late in coming, and not extensive enough.

Implementation plans and research reports like this one on Improving and Expanding Programs to Support a Diverse Healthcare Workforce from the Urban Institute recognize that the traditional approach – focused on supporting diverse students in provider pathways and advanced degrees – has been slow to create change.

Cross-sector task forces like Colorado’s Student Success and Workforce Revitalization Task Force recognize the need to close the gaps between traditional postsecondary programs and workforce needs and to create more accessible pathways via stackable credentials.

At NIMAA, we find ourselves at the intersection of these conversations because a Medical Assistant credential can be an early step in many different health career pathways. NIMAA students come from diverse backgrounds, have a passion for healthcare and aspire to serve their communities, as seen in this recent applicant’s statement:

“I have been working in healthcare for the past four years in various roles within my organization. I have been able to see different behind-the-scenes work that is done to ensure our patients have everything they need…I am looking for ways to further expand and provide more direct patient care to those in our community. I am also a single parent to a brilliant eight year old boy who I plan to always set good examples for. My hope is to one day be a physician myself and this would only be the start of that long journey.

As one might imagine, traditional education pathways—starting with a two or four-year degree program—would require putting family obligations and employment on hold for long stretches of time, and are therefore not always an accessible option.

Critical parts of the solution

Stackable credentials and career pathways must become more transparent and actionable for those in entry-level healthcare positions. For example, NIMAA and Community College of Denver (CCD) developed an articulation agreement, which gives NIMAA graduates significant credit toward an associate’s degree of applied science in Medical Assisting. NIMAA’s rigorous, accredited program provides a foundation upon which graduates can build. Employers can accelerate employee development by supporting continuing education opportunities and aligning educational milestones with career steps.  These incremental, stackable steps can help move passionate, committed staff from entry-level to advanced positions, diversifying the healthcare workforce in the process.  

Next steps

Educational institutions could also provide credit for the clinical experience gained by someone in an MA or other allied health role who is working their way up a career ladder, potentially facilitating entry into more advanced tracks, such as a nursing program or medical school.

NIMAA stands ready to partner with traditional educational institutions and our employer partners to turn these pathway conversations into realities. Our hope is that by the time our applicant’s 8-year-old is 18, he will have seen his mother accomplish concrete steps toward her dream, and have a clear path forward of his own.