The making of two M.A.s

“I’d been working at Starbucks for 8 years and 3 months, and it was about 8 years and 3 months too long.”

No disrespect intended to the international coffee giant. Life just had other plans for Alisha Liedtke.

After a stint selling bamboo sheets for Costco across the continental U.S., Liedtke found herself wanting something that kept her closer to home, and to husband Drew, who at the time was getting his Master of Fine Arts from CWU.

“We’d lived in Ellensburg for three years,” Liedtke recalls, “but I’d never been part of the town.”

She was ready for a change.

Photo: Flores and Liedtke take a moment to confer in a clinic exam room.

Liedtke found a local job opening for a scribe in a clinical environment at Kittitas Valley Healthcare. She applied, and was chosen out of more than forty applicants for the position. “I thought it was an established program,” she laughs. “Turns out I was the first one.”

Soon, Liedtke found herself working alongside teammates José Diaz, April Grant, Laurie Rost, and Carrie Barr, laying the groundwork for the program now in place at KVH, where scribes serve in exam rooms alongside patients and providers, handling the computer charting during the visit.

Rightfully proud of what the team accomplished, Liedtke sees the scribe’s role as “helping the provider to focus on patients.” Now, much of the documentation work that added hours to a provider’s already long day rests in the capable hands of scribes.

Six months before Liedtke began her journey at KVH Family Medicine – Ellensburg, Flores became the newest dietary aide in Food and Nutrition Services at KVH Hospital. Unlike Liedtke, the healthcare setting was familiar to Flores. The daughter of an RN, “I’ve always worked in the medical field,” she explains. “I got my CNA (Certified Nurse Assistant) when I was 16.”

She put that degree to good use for the next 16 years, working as a residential trainer for people with disabilities, then at a nursing home.

About a year into her time in the KVH kitchen, Flores underwent surgery. While convalescing, she received a call from Chief Clinic Officer Carrie Barr, asking Flores if she’d be interested in becoming a medical assistant (MA).

It was a tough decision for Flores to make.

“I’ve always wanted to work in a doctor’s office,” she admits, “but I was thinking about my family in the hospital kitchen. I loved working with everyone there. It was comfortable, and I didn’t want to leave them hanging.”

Around the same time, Liedtke got a call of her own. She was summoned to the manager’s office for a private meeting. “I was terrified! What did I do?” she’d wondered. She then learned that KVH was about to launch another program in the clinics, this time an apprenticeship for medical assistants.

They asked me, “Are you interested?”

That one question led to some sleepless nights for Liedtke, who would be facing yet another major transition. Being an MA “is a whole different ballgame,” she says. “And I’d also be leaving a job that really nurtured me into becoming the person I was supposed to be.”

Despite their initial hesitancy, both women ultimately made the courageous decision to move forward into the exciting world of medical assistants.

Things took off quickly once the apprenticeship began. After a one-day orientation, they shadowed with their coaches (certified MAs), who roomed patients, gave immunizations and EKGs, and did documentation and data entry. “By Day 3, we felt comfortable,” recalls Liedtke. “The coaches were still there, but we were ‘driving.’”

Now that the one-year apprenticeship is drawing to a close, Flores and Liedtke both agree they made the right decision.

“I can’t believe how much I love it,” beams Liedtke. “I’m doing things now that in the past I’d only hoped for. I’m living this life I never could have imagined for myself. I get to wake up and put on PJs (scrubs) and go to work and help patients all day. It’s like the greatest job in the world!”

Flores agrees. “It’s never boring.” As a mother of two, Flores is a hit with the clinic’s pediatric patients. Other than her son Colton and daughter Dakotah, “I’ve never worked with children before,” says Flores. She quickly got past that barrier, finding ways to encourage youngsters who often aren’t thrilled about being at the clinic. “No matter how they do, with their parents’ permission, I give them a popsicle and tell them ‘Thanks for being a good kid. You’re a super hero!’”

The two women’s families are also thrilled, with both mothers aspiring even more for their girls. “My mom thinks I should become an RN,” says Flores, who loves her work as an MA and is content to continue in that role. Young Dakotah feels the same way: “‘It’s more of a mom job you’re doing now,’” she recently told Flores. “’I can say I’m proud of you.’” That, along with the clinic’s family-friendly schedule, is as much of a reward as Flores could ever want.

In the same selfless way that they care for their patients, Flores and Liedtke encourage others to join them in considering an apprenticeship. “If you love the idea of patient care, it’s absolutely the way to go,” says Liedtke. And while program graduates agree to stay with KVH for at least one year, both women find the idea of working elsewhere amusing.

Says Liedtke, “I’m never leaving this place.” Flores nods and smiles gently, “I’d say we’re spoiled.”

Surely, these remarkable ladies’ shared passion for patient care somehow makes us all a little better.