Prince William Sound College (PWSC) partners with Providence Valdez Medical Center (PVMC) on a Certified Nurse Aide (CNA) course each year. Last year, nine students completed the program and several went on to become CNAs.
To discuss the success of this program, PWSC reached out to Renea Mitchell who is the CNA program coordinator and long-term supervisor at Providence. She has served in these roles for the past two years and has been a nurse since 1982.
“CNAs are the backbone for long-term care,” Mitchell explained. CNAs spend more time with residents than nurses or doctors. This allows CNAs to monitor slight changes to the residents’ health. Mitchell also explained how CNAs help preserve the health of family relationships, by helping residents with day-to-day routine tasks that would otherwise be difficult for their family members to assist them with.
Because of the critical role CNAs play on the front lines of health care, PVMC opens 6-8 positions for employment in conjunction with PWSC’s CNA course. Graduates are typically employed on a per-diem, entry-level basis with the hospital before moving on to full-time positions. This allows graduates time to gain valuable experience, and gives them an opportunity to discover if healthcare is the right career choice for them.
Mitchell recommends that anyone who is interested in going into nursing start by becoming a CNA. In fact, many of the nursing students at PWSC start by working as a CNA at Providence. Mitchell shared that PVMC reimburses newly hired employees for tuition and fees associated with taking the CNA course through their employee tuition assistance program.
Mitchell, and many of the students, spoke very highly of the CNA program and the lead instructor Chris Johnson who is a nurse for PVMC. We spoke to a few of the students about their experiences in the CNA program.
Yuliana Estrada came to Valdez from Chihuahua, Mexico, six years ago to be with her family. She began her educational journey in the United States with PWSC’s English as a Second Language (ESL) program. Her journey was not easy.
Estrada explains, “I always knew I wanted to help others and I am interested in nursing. Taking the CNA program is a pathway to nursing... To be better prepared for the class, I went to see Teresa Barton, ABE Coordinator, to get more help. It paid off: I graduated from the program.”
Genia Duhamel, who is a current CNA with PVMC, explains that what motivated her to take the CNA program was a desire to learn how to take better care of aging family members.
PVMC CNA Shelby Gudgell grew up in Valdez. She wanted the valuable experience provided by the CNA program to jumpstart her career in nursing. “I loved my CNA class,” Shelby says. “Chris Johnson was our instructor and he made the class really fun. He had a bunch of information for us and showed us how to do all of the skills. It was really great! I am working as a CNA right now, at the Valdez Hospital in Acute Care and the ER. I am there about 3 days a week and I love it. The hours are long but I learn something every day. I work with the best people and it makes me happy to go to work every day.”
The CNA program is a great example of how PWSC and local industry partners are committed to workforce development and training to meet the needs of the Valdez community, the state of Alaska, and beyond.