For high school students through the ages, whether they studing Algebra, Geoffrey Chaucer or Bernoulli’s Principle — the cry of the frustrated and bored has always been the same, “When am I ever going to use this, anyway?”
Students in Dori Unterseher’s certified nursing assistant class, however, don’t have that problem. Every week in class and in a practice lab they learn practical skills that will, with any luck, stay with them for the rest of their professional lives.
The CNA program, offered in conjuction with the Twin Harbors Skills Center and Grays Harbor Community Hospital, enables students to obtain their certification as a nursing assistant — almost guaranteeing local or regional employment for those who complete the program.
Makynzie Matisons, a senior at Aberdeen High School, said she wants to work as a neo-natal nurse. She said she took the class because it will put her closer to her goal had she not taken the class.
“You’re just a step ahead of everybody else,” she said.
Unterseher, one of three nurses who teach the class, said the program, now in its second year, is “amazing.”
“I think it’s an incredible opportunity for a high school student to get a basic introduction to health care to help them decide what their future might look like,” Unterseher said.
The class is an intensive, year-long course that meets 15 hours a week during the academic year. During the first half of the year, the class day usually involves a quiz of some sort and work in a text book, followed by practicing medical techniques on medical mannequins — such as determining blood pressure, controlling infection and how to exercise a bed-ridden patient to prevent bed sores and muscle atrophy.
During the second half of the academic year, students move from the classroom to give care to patients on Grays Harbor, mostly in assisted-living environments under constant observation. At the end of the class, students have to successfully complete a 70-question state certification exam and be able to complete a patient care skills test that covers 24 areas of care.
“It’s pretty hard, we have to maintain a ‘B’ average to do the clinicals,” Matisons said.
One obvious draw that the class has is that it provides free training that can result in a job after high school. Unterseher said that as long as the students pass the tests, they become “immediately employable” upon graduation. All 10 of the students in last year’s inaugural class were hired in the medical field, Unterseher said.
There are 20 students enrolled in this year’s class, but not all of them want to be a CNA. Nursing assistants provide the most basic level of care, including tasks that some people may find unsavory, like providing personal hygiene for invalid patients. The benefit to the students who don’t want to be a CNA is the class can be a starting ground for an education in medicine. The classes count as college credit and can be applied toward a nursing degree.
Although all of the students from last year’s class were employed in the medical profession, seven of them attend college, six locally. Many of those students are pursuing further licensing as a registered nurse or licensed practical nurse. The clinicals, as the lessons with live patients are called, give prospective applicants to medical school time with patients, something increasingly seen as a critical part of an application to medical school. Students who can’t gain this experience with a paid position in a medical setting must to volunteer at hospitals just to keep their application competitive.
Forrest Gonzalez, a senior at Montesano High School and student in the program, wants to join the Air Force upon graduation and become a pararescue specialist. Pararescue specialists are special operations troops that are normally tasked with going behind enemy lines to rescue pilots that have been shot down, or to rescue troops who need emergency medical care and evacuation in isolated, hostile areas.
Gonzalez said he took the class because he had already taken the introduction to medical sciences class and thought the CNA class would give him more exposure to triage or emergency medicine. Though that might not have been exactly what the class provided, he would still recommend it for any student considering the medical field as a career.
“I am glad I took it, it was good exposure,” Gonzalez said.