Education: Georgia Northwestern students mixing safety practices with ‘externships’ as part of their healthcare curriculum.

Education: Georgia Northwestern students mixing safety practices with ‘externships’ as part of their healthcare curriculum.


Sharon Vaughan (left), clinical coordinator and instructor for the Medical Assisting program, works with GNTC student Katrina Billingsley on setting up a spirometry test during an outdoor lab. GNTC photo.


Media release: Standing outside of Georgia Northwestern Technical College’s  Building H on the Floyd County Campus, six Medical Assisting students stand six feet apart as they practice the proper procedure for taking on and off their personal protective equipment.

While it may seem simple, if done improperly it could lead to contamination, said Sharon Vaughan, clinical coordinator and instructor for GNTC’s Medical Assisting program. The  students are among those Vaughan and the other Medical Assisting instructors see throughout the week as students finish spring and summer semester requirements for the program.

“We have been working since May 18 to make sure we make up for the time we lost in the spring,” Vaughan said. “Fortunately, we got the more intensive labs done at the beginning of the semester.”

To ensure a safe lab experience, GNTC students have been practicing social distancing, meeting in small groups with instructors and wearing a mask at all times while in the building or when in close proximity to other students while on campus.

Students on the Walker County Campus have been meeting in groups of six and stand on marked spots that have been spaced out while in their labs. According to Martha Smith, assistant dean of Health Technologies and instructor of Medical Assisting, the Walker students have been working on phlebotomy as well as medical techniques on manikins.

“During the labs I ensured they were properly gloved, masked, face shielded and gowned,” Smith said. “Currently, my students are at their clinical sites and I have been making sure I visit each one to check up on them.”

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, students are still getting externships through local medical partners. The PPE training held outside of Building H was part of the training Floyd Medical Center required before the students began their externship, Vaughan explained. Floyd provided GNTC’s Medical Assisting program with the materials needed for the training.  Other labs the Medical Assisting students have been taking includes spirometry testing, electrocardiography and vision tests.

According to Vaughan, all of the Medical Assisting students finishing the program this summer are on track to graduate despite COVID-related delays. Students who began the Medical Assisting program in fall of 2019 will be eligible to walk in the Aug. 11, drive-through graduation at the Floyd County Campus.

“We already had an online presence and expanded that with video lectures and virtual forums,” Vaughan said. “Once it was safe to meet again we made sure our students did not miss out on the hands-on portion of the course. We put our heads together and made sure they got everything out of the Medical Assisting program.”

Georgia Northwestern Technical College offers an associate of applied science degree and diploma in Medical Assisting at the Floyd County and Walker County campuses.  For more information about the Medical Assisting program, visit us at or contact us at (866) 983-4682, Monday through Friday, 7:45 a.m. to 4:15 p.m.

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