Essential Healthcare Workers: Programs of Study


Essential workers are the lifeblood of the American healthcare system. Without them, no one gets the care they need. In times of crisis, communities rely on them when they’re needed most, and it’s noticeable when there are too few essential workers. For students interested in a rewarding career in healthcare, the time to seek training through an affordable vocational school program is now. Patients are waiting.

What is an Essential Healthcare Worker?

With few exceptions, most healthcare workers are essential. Doctors are important, but they can’t do it alone. They need the help of skilled staff members to meet the growing needs of patients in a public health emergency.

Who are these quiet heroes working behind the scenes? They’re nurses, medical assistants, medical office assistants and medical billing and coding specialists. In a crisis, what role does each play?


Nurses are professional caregivers. They can work independently, but more often than not, they’re part of a team of dedicated healthcare providers working toward a common goal: to provide exceptional patient care.

Registered nurses (RN) and licensed practical nurses (LPN) fill a unique role in a healthcare crisis. With less training than doctors but more training than medical assistants, they’re licensed to make specific clinical judgments without one-on-one supervision, saving physicians’ time for the sickest patients.

What do nurses do in a national crisis? In addition to providing top-quality personal care for patients in hospitals and nursing facilities, they also have the necessary skills to educate the public about disease control and prevention measures. They support patients in their homes, in person or via telehealth services, so the patients don’t have to risk infection by visiting their doctor. When treatments such as vaccinations become available, they join forces with public health officials to administer them to the masses.

Because nurses work in so many settings, they see the most vulnerable patients and can help identify medical needs. It’s an essential role.

Medical Assistants

Medical assistants support doctors and nurses in a wide range of healthcare settings. Most work in physician’s offices, but their roles are expanding into other settings as hospitals and clinics recognize their value.

Like nurses, medical assistants save doctors’ time by managing administrative and clinical tasks that require skill, but not the attention of professional providers. They keep things running smoothly by attending to the many small details that ensure positive patient care experiences.

In a crisis, medical assistants serve as the liaison between patients and their healthcare team, answering calls, fielding questions and providing guidance to patients with the help of licensed staff. In addition to their regular duties, such as taking vital signs, reviewing medical history and helping patients prepare for exams, medical assistants take on extra responsibilities in a transmissible disease crisis, the most important of which is infection control.

Managing the flow of patients, sanitizing frequently touched surfaces and sterilizing equipment is all part of a medical assistant’s job, but it takes on more significance during an outbreak of infectious disease. Medical assistants help keep patients safe from viral infection by maintaining the cleanest environment possible. They are valuable essential workers.

Medical Office Assistants

Medical office assistants handle the many administrative responsibilities that are an integral part of the care patients receive at every doctor’s visit. The job is much more than filling out paperwork. By validating patients’ personal and financial data before each exam, medical office assistants shave valuable time off each encounter, freeing up doctors to see more sick patients. Since continuity of care demands that treatment information be carefully documented and stored, a medical office assistant’s role as a recordkeeper can’t be under-emphasized. Quick and accurate referrals depend on it.

In a crisis, the large volume of patients seeking care can be overwhelming, medical offices will have busy switchboards and complex schedules. Because public health officials have asked patients to call their physician before going to the emergency room for symptoms of viral illness, medical office assistants may have to juggle the schedule several times per day to ensure patient’s needs are met. They’re the logistical superstars that make busy days run like clockwork.

Medical Billing and Coding Specialists

Medical billing and coding specialists handle coding, invoicing and insurance claims for every service a medical institution provides. During a crisis, billing may seem secondary or even trivial compared to health needs, but for medical facilities to continue providing care and paying their employees, financial resources are a must. Letting the economy of healthcare fall behind is bad business.

Billing and coding specialists also play a special role in public health, coding. More than 90-percent of all healthcare bills in the United States are paid for by third parties. Private and public insurance companies, as well as Medicare and Medicaid, require standardized codes on reimbursement forms describing the services performed and the supplies used while providing care. The same information is used by public health departments to track community health data. It’s a critical part of their decision-making process.

How to Get a Diploma or Degree as an Essential Healthcare Worker

Becoming an essential healthcare worker requires training. Medical assistants, medical office assistants, and medical billing and coding specialist can choose from diploma or degree programs. Registered nurses are required to have a minimum of an associate degree to obtain a license to practice. Licensed practical nurses can choose to pursue a diploma to transform into an essential worker.

Due to the current health crisis, some schools are closed for on-campus learning, but that doesn’t mean opportunities are going away, they’re just evolving. The good news is that because the need for essential healthcare workers is rising fast, vocational schools are getting creative, offering shared video and online courses and other convenient options.

All that’s required for students to be successful as essential healthcare workers is a passion for helping others and the willingness to learn. Why wait to apply?

Final Thoughts

The current public health crisis won’t last forever, but the need for essential healthcare workers will. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, healthcare occupations are projected to add more jobs than any other career group in the next decade as aging Americans require more healthcare services. Become a hero today, be a hero for life.

Medical Assistant Program

Gwinnett College offers Medical Assisting Courses to gain essential skills and training. The core curriculum focuses on the medical assisting skills and training you will need to seek entry-level employment in physicians’ offices, clinics, hospitals, and other medical settings.

Medical Office Assistant Program

The Medical Office Administration diploma program is designed for Gwinnett College students seeking to train for an entry-level career in a medical office assistant environment

Medical Billing and Coding Specialist Program

Gwinnett College’s Medical Billing and Coding programs will provide you with the opportunity to learn insurance coding and processing, medical administrative procedures, and the regulatory requirements in the healthcare delivery system. 

Registered Nurse (RN) Program

The Associate of Science in Nursing degree program at Gwinnett College provides training to prepare college graduates to enter the nursing profession as an RN. 

Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) Program

The Practical Nursing program at Gwinnett Institute provides training to prepare college graduates to enter the nursing profession as an LPN. 

RN to BSN Program

The RN to Bachelor of Science in Nursing/RN-BSN program is designed to provide professionals currently licensed as registered nurses the flexibility of online study to build upon the knowledge gained through previous training and education.

Contact Gwinnett College today to learn more about taking classes to become an essential worker.