A Healing Hand: program offers way into a medical career | SierraSun.com

A Healing Hand: program offers way into a medical career

Katherine Morris, Sierra Sun

Katrina Walker had been working in home daycare services for 10 years when she finally decided to pursue her lifelong dream of becoming a nurse. With no prior medical experience, she enrolled in the pre-certification Nurse’s Aide program at Tahoe Forest Hospital and within a matter of months, she was well on her way to becoming a Certified Nurse’s Aide.

Walker, who has been working as a C.N.A. in Truckee for nearly two and a half years now, was offered a job before she even completed the course.

This year’s pre-certification course, which is offered through the Plumas and Sierra Regional Occupational Program, runs from March 1 to June 22. The two-part course is geared towards preparing students to take the California State Certification Exam for nurse aides. After an individual passes that exam, he or she is eligible to apply for a C.N.A. position.

Tuition for the course is $150, and no prior medical experience is necessary. Students must have an interest in the healthcare profession, be at least 18 years of age and a high school graduate — or have received a GED — and must have knowledge of the English language, both written and verbal.

“This is a great way for people to get their start in the medical profession,” said Renee Pfister, C.N.A. course instructor. “When you’ve finished the program [and been certified], you can work in a variety of places such as hospice, home health care, extended care, rehabilitation centers and Alzheimer’s units.”

According to Deborah White, staff development coordinator for Tahoe Forest Hospital who oversees this program, one of the main reasons the hospital started this program six years ago was to encourage more people to enter the nursing profession.

“Before we’ve had to contract outside C.N.A.s to come in and work for us,” White said. “This saves the district a lot of money because we can grow our own.”

Nationwide, there’s been a significant drop-off in the number of people entering the field of nursing, and according to Janet Van Gelder, director of the Tahoe Forest Hospital District, both the hospital’s Nevada and California facilities have been feeling the pinch.

“The state of Nevada now has the worst nurse to patient ratio and California has the second worst,” Van Gelder said. “It’s a real crisis. If we don’t have nurses, who is going to take care of us?”

She attributes the nursing shortage to a combination of factors including shiftload — having to work nights, weekends and holidays — the difficulty of the work itself, both mentally and physically, and the relatively lower salaries compared to other jobs that are out there.

Van Gelder also pointed out that the aging nursing staff is not being replenished by a younger workforce.

“The average age of nurses in California is 47, with the average age nationwide at 45. At that age, you’re tired — you don’t want to have to work nights and weekends,” she said.

Van Gelder, who started out as a C.N.A., said she would encourage people to take the pre-certification program because it’s a great way to explore all of the positions in the medical field that are available right now.

“The great thing about [the medical profession] is that it is recession proof, meaning I will always have a job, because people are always going to get sick and need medical care,” she said.

According to Pfister, there are usually positions available for students after they have completed the certification course, which is offered twice a year. After the last pre-certification course, she said that she thought all seven students were hired by the hospital.

Walker said she would encourage people who like to take care of others to try out the program.

“It’s very rewarding work, especially to see the look on people’s faces and know that you are making a difference,” Walker said.

For more information or to request a registration form, contact Loretta Shields, Staff Development, Tahoe Forest Hospital at (530) 582-3543. Enrollment is limited to 16, so register early.