If there's one thing an employer likes, it's someone who can perform many tasks. Medical assistants fit the bill.

"The reason that clinics like medical assistants is that they're cross-trained," explained Stacey Wanovich, a faculty member in Anoka Technical College's medical assistant program (anokatech.edu). "They're a lot of bang for the buck, and nowadays everyone is trying to cut costs."

Certified medical assistants mostly work in clinics, administering injections, taking blood pressure readings, drawing blood, performing common laboratory tests, working with medical records, scheduling patients and performing electrocardiograms. They often greet patients and escort them to examination rooms and assist providers with procedures.

Minnesota state WorkForce Centers have been referring job-seekers to the Anoka Tech program, which has seen enrollment skyrocket in the past two years, according to Wanovich.

From cubicle to exam room

Recent graduate Mark Ziemer, 51, saw his software development job go overseas and decided to do something completely different. An externship at the end of his program at Anoka Tech led to a job at Allina Hospitals & Clinics Champlin clinic. There, he primarily assists one physician, rooms patients, takes vital signs, administers vaccines, prepares the procedure room, and makes phone calls.

"This is vastly different than what I did before," Ziemer said. "When I did the software, I'd type back and forth to the guy in the next cube."

Ziemer studied physics and chemistry in high school, and had vowed never to "touch the gooey biology stuff." Going back to school was frightening, but Ziemer was surprised by how much he enjoyed his classes and likes the interactions at work.

"We're big on customer service and go out and greet the patient in the lobby and bring them back and do our best to keep the customers happy," he added. "This is a big part of it."

Learn all about it

Anoka Tech offers a diploma or an associate of applied science degree in medical assisting. Students must take basic liberal arts courses before tackling the core curriculum, which includes medical terminology, anatomy and physiology, clinical, laboratory and ethics.

"The biggest thing here at the school is professionalism, and we have a lot of sites who want our students just because of that factor," Wanovich said.

The economy has slowed demand for graduates, but most are finding jobs, especially if they're willing to commute. "The clinics right now have their pick," said Deb LeHew, acting director of the medical assistant program at Anoka Tech.

"If you're an exceptional student, you're going to get snapped up right away," said Wanovich. "If you're more of a moderate student, it can take up to six months, depending on where you live."