Eleven Ketchikan High School seniors completed a Certified Nursing Assistant course this school year, with all nine of the students who took the state board test on May 18 earning their CNA certifications.
University of Alaska Southeast Ketchikan campus Student Services Manager Gail Klein, UAS Adjunct Instructor and Pioneer Home Licensed Practical Nurse Siri Alvey, and three Kayhi students who earned their CNA certification through the course gathered at the Kayhi library on May 22 to talk about the program.
“It was really interesting, and I learned a lot,” Olivia Kinunen said of the course.
A CNA works to support patients with tasks such as washing, moving and feeding patients, monitoring vital signs and assisting patients with range of motion exercises.
“It definitely was very similar to what I expected,” Kinunen said. ”There were some things that were a lot easier than I thought that they would be and some things that were a lot harder.
“But, I think going into the class you really just have to be open minded and you have to be ready to learn because you’re not going to be able to absorb any of the information if you’re not ready to be open to new things”
Klein said the course was part of an effort by Ketchikan School District Superintendent Beth Lougee to expand student learning opportunities.
“She really began working with the university to look for opportunities for collaboration,” Klein said.
Klein added that she and Lougee worked with Ketchikan PeaceHealth Medical Center, Ketchikan Indian Community and UAS as they were “looking for more ways to engage and get students credentials in vocational areas in high school.”
When they decided to offer the CNA class, at no cost to Kayhi students, they brought UAS nursing instructor Alvey on board. Kayhi counselor Natasha O’Brien joined the team to help recruit the right students for the program.
Klein said earning a CNA certificate has given many UAS students a boost.
“What we’re seeing with the cooperative UAA nursing program, is it really gives them a strong foundation for it,” Klein said. “Those students who have done the CNA class before they go into our nursing cohort perform better academically.”
Klein said that PeaceHealth provided the largest portion of funding for the Kayhi program, and UAS supported it with discounted tuition and tuition waivers, and KIC supplied funding both through their programs and through a state grant.
“It was basically free for us,” Kinunen said, adding, “I think it’s really amazing that they did that for us, because all of us learned so much about ourselves and about the medical field, and got to become closer together.”
In the May 22 interview, all three students said they are entering nursing or pre-medical programs in college this fall.
Ella Hillberry said she jumped into the Kayhi CNA course, even though she’d been unsure of what it would bring.
“To be honest, I didn’t know what a CNA did when I first entered the course. I just knew it was a pre-medical type course that would help with my application to nursing school one day,” she said, adding, “I also know that a lot of nursing programs are competitive, so it helps to have a CNA certification before you go in, because it gives you a step up compared to the other candidates.”
She described another benefit that would be reaped further into the future.
“I’ve also heard that nurses who worked as CNAs first are more understanding towards those who work underneath them, because they’ve learned what it’s like to be in that position,” she said.
“One of the things I tell them, is it’s a pyramid, it’s a hierarchy. The CNAs are at the bottom. They’re the foundation. They’re what holds it together. They’re the eyes, the ears, the hands, the nose of the nurses and the doctors,” she said. “Without them, I can’t do my job and the doctor can’t do his job without me.”
She further explained that it is the CNAs who spend the majority of the time with the patients, allowing them to be the first medical professionals to notice changes in the patients’ conditions.
Alvey added that one of her goals in teaching the class, whether at the college level, or at Kayhi, is to give students a solid foundation.
“I want them to have something they can fall back on, if they ever need to. Something they can use to support them through college,” she explained.
A benefit of taking a CNA class in high school, Alvey said, is that “it also gets their hands into the medical field, where they can decide if this is really, truly something they want to do.”
CNA skills are not taught in nursing programs, Alvey said, so earning a certificate before entering nursing school fills that gap.
The 160-hour CNA course involves 16 days of classroom instruction in addition to 48 hours of practicing skills in medical facilities. The Kayhi students worked two 12-hour days in the Pioneer Home and two 12-hour days in the PeaceHealth Ketchikan Medical Center.
The 12-hour work day fills a specific goal, Alvey said, to give the students a full range of experiences.
“You come in early enough, you’re getting patients up, you’re feeding them through three meals, you’re participating in activities, you’re putting them to bed, you’re changing them … you get that full skill set for the whole day,” she explained.
The students were required to pass a mid-term and final exam during the school year, as well as a 70-question multiple-choice test and a hands-on skills test for the state board examination in order to receive certification.
Jessilynn Sivertsen also shared her thoughts on the program.
“Even if you’re not sure what you want to do, I still think that taking the CNA course is something that’s definitely worth it,” she said. “I definitely think it’s a way to figure it out without going all the way through college.”
Kinunen said that Alvey was an especially effective teacher.
“Siri really made it interesting and she would tell us stories that would connect the things that we were learning in the book to the actual field work,” she said. “I think that really kept my interest up for it.”
Alvey said, “I don’t feel like I need to teach the book. You read the book. You get the book. My point is to make it real. To make it a reason to want to do it and to understand why. So, we critical think a lot of things.”
Hillberry’s advice for students considering taking the course was to “make sure you know how to manage your time, because the bookwork that we do outside of the class does take a long time.”
Sivertsen said the classroom portion of the course was the most difficult for her, as it started at 7 a.m., when she was extremely fatigued. Her favorite part was getting out into the field to work with patients.
“Seeing the residents and trying the things and connecting with some of the residents definitely made it worth it,” she said. “It made me know that I want to do something in the medical field.”
Sivertsen said she will major in pre-med at Eastern Washington University, in Cheney, Washington this fall.
Hillberry, Kinunen and CNA classmate Angela Rodriguez all are enrolled in the nursing program at Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon.
“Three of us, all going from here, is pretty unique,” Hillberry said.
Alvey said she could see the bonds between her students strengthen as they worked through the course over the year.
Hillberry agreed that there was a strong sense of community among the classmates.
“We’d split into skill groups, and you didn’t care who you were with, because everybody was friends with everybody in that class,” she said.
“It’s kind of like we became kind of a family,” she said.