Wearing her scrubs, pink surgical mask, and thick-soled, comfortable black shoes, 17-year-old Taezha Watson looked every bit the medical professional as she walked the hallways of Good Samaritan Hospital in Puyallup.
Watson spent five days at Good Sam learning and doing the job of a certified nursing assistant—taking vital signs for patients, feeding and cleaning them, learning how to chart patient data, and comforting them through difficult moments.
By experiencing the work, Watson’s confidence increased, and she realized she could be well-suited for a job in health care.
“I wasn’t sure I would be good at it,” she said. “I wasn’t confident in my abilities. And now I know I can do it.”
That’s the hope for all 24 students in the first group selected for TPS’ new Next Move Nursing Career Launch Program. The students participate in a 90-hour certified nursing assistant training program and a 40-hour clinical experience in a health care facility before taking the exam to become a certified nursing assistant.
The Next Move Internship Program has provided students in Tacoma with career exploration and preparation training for many years through unpaid, community-based internship experiences. This new program builds on that by providing students with meaningful classroom learning, an industry-recognized certification, and a paid on-the-job internship.
The program is offered through a partnership with the Health Care Apprenticeship Consortium, created to provide all healthcare employers in the state access to skilled apprenticeship training for their workforce. It also provides better opportunities for students and job seekers to find a stable career outside of the traditional education route.
The Next Move Nursing Career Launch Program is certified by Career Connect Washington, a statewide initiative aimed at getting young people connected to training, internships, and certifications that lead to a career.
Further support comes from local healthcare providers MultiCare and Trouvés. At their facilities, students gain the first-hand experiences that help them determine whether a career in healthcare fits their long-term career plan.
It’s that first-hand experience that really matters, according to John Page, the school district’s director of Career and Technical Education.
“Kids in school typically interact with a textbook or lecture. We’re trying to get kids real work experiences with employers and the industry, where the experience they get and the relationships they develop have such a critical impact,” Page said. “They’re learning to create relationships and show compassion. You don’t learn that out of a book.”
Mount Tahoma senior Alina Prots agrees wholeheartedly.
“You could have the best CNA course on the planet, but it wouldn’t compare to shadowing someone doing the job you’re trying to learn,” Prots said. “Until you start doing the job yourself by learning from a professional, you don’t have a clue what you’re getting into.”
While Prots’ career goal is to become a surgical technician, she wanted the experience of working with patients as a CNA in training to feel a more personal connection and understand the whole-patient experience.
“If I’m going to be a technician while someone is getting a knee replacement, I want to have empathy for them after their surgery,” she said. “Are they experiencing pain? What do they need? How can I help?”
A week at Deer Ridge Memory Care Community gave her some of the insight she was looking for.
When her work shift started at 6 a.m., she and her mentor CNA headed toward the patients who needed the most help starting their day. Prots helped bathe, dress and feed them, and she got them moving either by helping them walk or pushing them in a wheelchair.
“I love it so much. There’s one patient who really likes to talk, so I stop by at the end of my shift to check in with him,” she said. “We talk about music, travel, high school, the fact that we both like to fish. There’s a generational divide, but we still connect. It warmed my heart.”
Prots is in the Clover Park Community College Running Start program, earning college credit while still a high school student. After she earns her license as a certified nursing assistant, she plans to work as a CNA to gain more experience and help cover expenses.
Her plan precisely reflects the point of the program, Page said.
“Typically, a CNA is an entry-level position in healthcare. The intent of this program is not for them to stay there, but to give them a leg up and explore the medical field,” Page said.
That exploration is just what Watson, a senior at Tacoma School of the Arts, wanted. She doesn’t know her exact job trajectory and is taking this opportunity to see what suits her.
“I didn’t know my career path before this CNA program, and I still don’t,” she said. “I just know I want to work with people. I know that being in nursing and helping people in a vulnerable time is part of that, so I’m feeling out health care to see what it’s like. Doing this clinical rotation at Good Sam was my favorite part. I had so many hands-on experiences, which I loved. It’s how I Iearn best. I see that the medical field is definitely a concrete option for me now.”
No matter where she lands, Watson’s experience is valuable, says TPS Next Move Internship program coordinator Brittany Skobel.
“So often, students finish high school and invest a ton of time and money into post-secondary education without any way to know if their career choice will work for them,” Skobel said. “We want students to have a firsthand experience in their chosen career before they graduate, so they can make sure it’s a good fit for them.”
No matter their long-term professional aspirations, both Watson and Prots said they will pursue their CNA certification exam soon so they can work in a healthcare facility in the near future.
“After this experience, I can’t see myself liking anything as much as I do the medical field,” Prots said.
How it works: Next Move Nursing Career Launch Program timeline
- Fall semester junior year: Introduction to internship class in career awareness and preparation activities
- Spring semester of junior year: 90-hour unpaid internship in the healthcare field
- Summer after junior year: 90-hour CNA course, 40-hour CNA clinical program
- Fall semester of senior year: 90-hour paid internship in the healthcare field
- Spring Semester Senior Year: Prepare for post-high school education and training opportunities
About Tacoma Schools
Tacoma Public Schools is the only district designated an Innovation Zone by Washington State. A leader in implementing innovative schools and programs to meet the diverse needs of every student, every day, TPS serves approximately 30,000 students from preschool to grade 12 and at nearly 5000 employees is one of the largest employers in Tacoma. Learn more...