Healthcare careers now begin here

New summer program licenses nursing aides in just three intensive weeks

6/29/2017 | TACOMA, Washington

​Twenty students in a new program currently working towards their Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) licenses this summer have embarked on a new approach to career preparation in Tacoma. The CNA program joins a growing list of certification and internship programs designed by Tacoma Public Schools’ Career & Technical Education Program to give young adults a leg up on a career as soon as they graduate high school—if they choose that path.

"There was a student who came in hoping to get her CNA exam paid for,” said Program Specialist Jennifer Boutell. “So this led to a conversation about how we could sponsor an entire program.”

The resulting partnership combines the efforts of Tacoma Public Schools, the City of Tacoma, Federal Way’s Divine CNA training school, the nonprofit Multicare medical corporation, and Tacoma’s Franke Tobey Jones retirement community. The three-week program involves two weeks of classroom instruction at Divine, followed by a week of live experience at the retirement community, and culminates with students taking the state licensing exam to earn their CNA license.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 17% increase in CNA employment over the next seven to 10 years, a growth rate much higher than the average for all other occupations. The certification also offers a great introduction to the health care field for those intending to take the next step.

“It’s a good jumpstart to a medical career,” Boutell said. “Whether medical school or nursing, it’s recommended students get the CNA certification first.”

Students earn .5 academic credit for their studies as well as getting the license if they pass the exam. The City of Tacoma agreed to pay for training at Divine, while Tacoma Public Schools covers transportation, student supervision and program coordination.

Each day of the classroom portion of the program begins with a test, according to Wilson High School’s Family & Consumer Sciences Teacher Alisa Howard, who supervises the students while they learn at the training facility in Federal Way. The state licensing exam requires applicants to know and apply more than 20 distinct skills, from taking blood pressure to personal hygiene care for patients who can’t perform basic tasks themselves.

Besides practicing on mannequins, the students pair off and practice taking their partner’s vital signs, brushing their teeth, feeding them and helping them get in and out of bed. Getting over their natural shyness by working on each other first is critical, because  the third week of the course sees students go to a retirement home and work alongside practicing CNAs.

“Many students learn from the lectures and understand the content, but sometimes they struggle with being shy and squeamish,” Howard said. “Sometimes students will second-guess themselves in fear of doing something wrong when practicing, even just on a mannequin.”

Student Errolyn Tillman, a junior at Mount Tahoma this fall, said the live practice gives her some insight—and empathy—into what the experience must be like for patients.

“I felt like a patient when I was being fed,” Tillman said. “It made me realize how they may feel uncomfortable. It gives us a different view on what we’re getting into as CNA students.”

Mitchell Ly, another incoming Mount Tahoma junior taking the course, appreciates the life lessons involved.

“I’m going to have to do this in the future with my parents and kids,” Ly said. “So this is a good start.”