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'Virtual training is the now' | Prince George's Co. program connects unemployed residents with in-demand medical jobs

An employment program for unemployed and underemployed residents in Prince George's County offers virtual training for medical jobs currently in demand.

PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY, Md. — After quitting her job in the early stages of the pandemic last year to take care of her children, Natacha Wankio would soon set her aspirations to become a medical assistant.

Cases of the coronavirus were growing, and Wankio wanted to help on the medical front lines. However, she first needed to become trained and eventually find a job opportunity.

Thanks to a local program organized by Employ Prince George's, MedCerts, and Goodwill, Wankio's dream is nearly complete as she awaits word on a start date with Planned Parenthood DC as a medical assistant that could involve her administering coronavirus vaccinations.

The employment program is held all online and focuses on placing residents from low-income areas in high-demand medical jobs.

Unemployment rates remain high at 8% in Prince George's County, according to official records from the Maryland Department of Labor during the last report issued in December. The mark was the third-highest in Maryland at the time.

With the pandemic still putting a strain on medical teams, organizers of the program hope to help job seekers find opportunities while also offering relief in the health care field.

RELATED: 'This is going to save lives' | Maryland sees surge in applications to help on medical front lines

"We knew that we had to figure out how could we put people back to work," said Employ Prince George's President and CEO Walter Simmons. "We think this can be a pipeline for health care workers throughout the region.” 

The employment program offers training held entirely online.

Unemployed or underemployed residents of the county must first register and speak with organizers before committing to up to 20 hours a week in training classes.

According to Simmons, 40 to 50 people have been placed in medical jobs since last year. 

"Our goal is if we can get the credential training to the students, they can get their foot in the door and really begin a career," said MedCerts member Sandy Mead. "Our goal is to help enhance their opportunities and get them a career and get them a boost that they need to get out there and begin that career and not be in the lower income levels.” 

Following her completion of training, Wankio said she interned with DaVita Kidney Care.

Since then, she has interviewed with Planned Parenthood DC and hopes to soon officially join the team to assist in vaccination efforts. Looking back on the last year, Wankio said the training courses played a big role in getting her the opportunity.

"This time last year. I didn’t have a career. I didn’t have anything," she said. "I just want to get my foot in there and start helping people.”

Moving forward, organizers hope to place as many as 200 people with in-demand medical jobs.

"We would have said virtual training is the future. I’m telling everybody virtual training is the now," Simmons said. "We can help fight the pandemic. We can help fight the recession.” 

Anyone interested in participating in the medical assistant program, which begins new classes in April, can contact Employ Prince George's at 301-618-8400 or by visiting this site.

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