Start Down the Road to a Nursing Career While Still in High School

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May 1st, 2012

By , BSN, RN

Being a nursing assistant may be the first step on the road to a lifelong career in healthcare. Many of the finest nurses I know started out as nursing assistants in nursing homes and in local hospitals. Where they have ended up ranges from charge nurses and preceptors in critical care units to nurse managers and chief executive officers (CEOs) of large healthcare organizations. It’s ground floor work and the experience can be priceless.

Now, we all know the job market today is challenging. We see experienced executives and new high school and college grads all in the same boat—looking for work. The experienced workers are being told to rework their resumes and list hobbies in case that makes them more interesting in some new field and new grads at every level are being told to not shoot to high, just take the job you can get.

The job market is challenging for everyone and even more so for young people just out of high school. However, there are students at one Lynchburg, Virginia high school who will soon be trained for one of the fastest growing areas of employment in the country and they will not have even heard “Pomp and Circumstance” start to play.

Next year, Lynchburg City Schools are rolling out a new nursing program. Students in the program will graduate high school with a certification as a nursing aide. This is just another way the school system hopes to give students a competitive edge.

Lots of teens get part time jobs; they may work as life guards or camp counselors during the summer, or bag groceries, or cook hamburgers a few hours a week during school. This new program will prepare them to get a responsible, full-time job as soon graduate college.

The students will learn the skills it takes to be a nursing aide, and be able to take advantage of the many job opportunities the certification awards. "They helped the patients with their care, they help them take care of themselves, they do their daily tasks for them, take them to and from physical therapy or occupational therapy things like that,’ said Susan Cash, a Career Counselor for Lynchburg City Schools. “And it won't just be about the books in this program. A classroom at Heritage High School will be turned into a health care area where students can get hands-on experience in the nursing field. ‘We'll have medical equipment; we should have beds there so they can learn to work with patients, transfers things like that,’ said Cash.”

Nursing assistants are expected to be able to use stethoscopes to listen to heartbeats and breathing; use a sphygmomanometer for take a blood pressure, and use a thermometer to take a temperature. They need to know how to use gait belts for assisting with rehabilitation or therapy; how to use a glucose meter to measure a patient’s blood sugar, and how to safely lift and move patients from beds to gurneys, chairs, and wheelchairs. All this will be learned in the students’ new healthcare lab.

The classes will be mixed in with their regular subjects like English, Math, and History. During the first year students will take their nursing classes at Heritage High. In year two, they will go out into the health care world, and intern in the nursing field getting a taste of the profession before they graduate.

Helpful to them sooner rather than later, said Ed Dellinger, Supervisor of Instruction for Career & Technical Education for Lynchburg City Schools.

The school system is partnering with Generations Solutions on this program. When the students finish the program they will be able to work in nursing homes, home health or hospitals.

This is a win-win situation. Young people will leave this Lynchburg high school with a diploma and with skill with which they can support themselves. If they think they want to be in the nursing or medical professions working as a CNA is a great way to see if these areas of healthcare are careers they really want to pursue.

Another high school, out in Arizona, has a similar program. Mingus Union High School in partnership with Verde Valley Medical Center and the Valley Academy for Career and Technology Education (VACTE) and the Infinia Care Facility, have brought back a career-track program for high school students: the Certified Nursing Assistant at MUHS.

The program, supported by the community partners and instructor Kay Cooper, RN, graduated ten students at the end of May. Seven of those students elected to pursue the testing to become CNA’s and all seven passed.

“The partnership between the Medical Center, Mingus Union and VACTE demonstrates the importance we all place on the CNA program as a vital link in the healthcare continuum.” said Cooper. ‘I am so proud to be part of this program and appreciate the support of VVMC, VACTE and the school board. We are actually seeing the 'returns' and that is why this program was supported so heartily by all the partners in the undertaking.”

She noted that although these students may have begun their careers as CNA’s, they also qualify for nursing programs by virtue of the certification. Their local school, Yavapai College, requires nursing assistant certification for students entering the nursing program.

It seems like we can’t say this often enough, but healthcare is one of the largest, fastest growing career fields in this country for the next couple of decades. Getting in on the ground floor, learning skills, finding a comfort zone, these are all great aspects of becoming a CNA while still in high school.

And to any parents who might be reading this, having special skills, having a recognized certification, showing the ability to be responsible and hold a job are all attractive traits on a college application. Plus, there is scholarship money out there for students pursuing healthcare degrees and careers. Between having the skills and ability to get work while in college and the opportunity for free money to help with tuition and expenses, earning a nursing assistant certification can be of great benefit—helping students not only get into college but to stay there in these difficult economic times.

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