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Medical Assistant, Health Center, and Training Partners Receive Impact Awards

March 24, 2022

A northern Michigan Medical Assistant, Health Center, and training parnters all received Michigan Works! Association Impact Awards March 24 in Lansing.

Local lawmakers and statewide talent development officials gathered virtually, and in-person, to recognize Jill Ponstein, Kalkaska Memorial Health Center, Penn Foster/Industrial Training Solutions, U.S. Department of Labor – Office of Apprenticeship, as well as Northwest Michigan Works! for offering an apprenticeship in an in-demand field that leads to a fulfilling career.

During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Jill Ponstein noticed that weekly dinners with her mom and sister became only 30 minutes long because they both had to get back to their jobs at Kalkaska Memorial Health Center (KMCH) where they were working nearly around the clock. Ponstein said she felt helpless, so when she saw a posting for a Medical Assistant Apprenticeship opportunity offered by Northwest Michigan Works!, in partnership with Kalkaska Memorial, she applied.

Ponstein’s educational and employment background was in business, but she says she had always been interested in healthcare. She has even started to attend a local community college focused on obtaining her Medical Assistant certification. But balancing school, work, and family made that difficult, so she put her education on hold until her youngest child was enrolled in school. Ponstein said the apprenticeship allowed her to get her education and training while balancing her other responsibilities.

“I was so excited to start in a career that always piqued my interest,” said Ponstein. “Michigan Works! helped tremendously by making sure I had the tools to complete my job. They provided me with scrubs, shoes, and a stethoscope with no cost to me.”

The U.S. Department of Labor Registered Medical Assistant Apprenticeship included paid on-the-job learning and online related technical instruction along with guidance from professional mentors. The program’s work-based learning strategy allowed Jill to get her training without having to pay for classes.

“Kalkaska Memorial Health Center was finding it difficult to recruit Medical Assistants to meet the needs of our growing family medicine practice,” said director of Employee Relations at Kalkaska Memorial Health Center Heather Soenksen. “Identified barriers for community members to train in healthcare careers included the difficulty in juggling school, work, and educational expenses. The apprenticeship partnership with Northwest Michigan Works! offers the career opportunity in our community for paid on-the-job learning and paid online related technical instruction along with guidance from professional mentors.”

Ponstein successfully completed her apprenticeship program and is now mentoring others as a Certified Medical Assistant. Her aspirations to continue her education and cultivate her career pathway growth include learning additional skills within the healthcare system.

"Penn Foster is proud to have worked closely with Northwest Michigan Works! and Kalkaska Memorial Health Center to create and launch their first ever Medical Assistant Apprenticeship program,” said Rick Bruno, Penn Foster, educational partner. “The collaboration was made simple due to the passion shared by all three parties, jointly pursuing a common goal of expanding apprenticeship into the Allied Health arena. Further, apprentice Jill Ponstein took full advantage of the program, completing the challenging self-paced training at an amazing pace with a very impressive overall average of 93. The Kalkaska program should serve as a model for other healthcare facilities, as a way to recruit and retain workers in these difficult times. I look forward to continuing to work with Kalkaska, with the assistance of Northwest Michigan Works!, as well as looking forward to the career journey that Jill’s training takes her on!”

The Impact Awards, hosted by the Michigan Works! Association, recognize the economic development success being achieved in communities across Michigan. During the event, local lawmakers present tributes to dozens of honorees from across the state. 

“Northwest Michigan Works! continues to show time and again that they are committed to understanding the unique needs of our region and then using that knowledge in ways that help employers and job seekers alike succeed,” said state Sen. Curt VanderWall (R-Ludington). “Their dedication to working closely with community partners is key to ensuring the economic success of our region.”

Award winners included employers, workers, Michigan Works! organizations, and partners from across the state.

“I commend Kalkaska Memorial Health Center, Penn Foster, the U.S. Department of Labor and Northwest Michigan Works! for their partnership on this great program that helps fill the need for high-demand jobs in our region,” said Rep. Daire Rendon (R-Lake City). “Congratulations to Jill on accomplishing her goals and to the team at Northwest Michigan Works! for all they do to assist the residents in our community with their needs and career goals.”

The Michigan Works! Association is a non-profit membership organization that provides services and support to Michigan’s talent eco-system. For over 30 years, the Association has been the go-to resource for federal, state, and local workforce initiatives.

The Association’s work ensures top-quality services and support for Michigan’s talent pipeline. For more information, please visit

Click on the link below to see an Impact Award video that includes comments from Jill Ponstein and the Director of Employee Relations at Kalkaska Memorial Health Center.

Imapct Awards Video


Northwest Michigan Works! is an essential resource for employers and job seekers in the Northern Michigan area.

Kathy Stuart, Michigan Rubber Products Human Resource Manager