Nursing course helps students advance careersMegan Moore, a high school senior from Northwood, N.D., recently readied her patient for a walk at Altru Health System in Grand Forks.
By: By Jennifer Johnson, Forum Communications, The Jamestown Sun
GRAND FORKS — Megan Moore, a high school senior from Northwood, N.D., recently readied her patient for a walk at Altru Health System in Grand Forks.
“Hello Ms. Wietzema, I’m Megan, and I’ll be your CNA today,” she said. “Can I get you to lift your hands up?”
In a small room in the hospital’s basement, Moore tied a belt around Hannah Wietzema, another high school senior from Northwood, to steady her for their walk. They were joined by two other students that day to practice skills needed for a certified nursing assistant, such as checking for blood pressure.
In the nurse assistant course through Grand Forks Area Career and Technology Center, students can get enough experience to take their certification test ahead of their peers. The one-semester class saves them time, money and prepares them to fill North Dakota’s growing need for health care workers, said center director Eric Ripley.
“Students can call and get the CNA exam and say, ‘I have the background and the training and the skills,’” he said. “If they pass that, they’re a licensed CNA.”
ACTC, which serves eight area school districts including Grand Forks, offers specialized courses to students when there’s not enough interest for their district to offer those courses.
Six programs such as automotive technology are offered through the center in a mix of face-to-face classes, online work and hands-on activities. The nursing assistant class is the most popular, with a total 119 online and standard students enrolled in the class this year.
Katie Hatt, nursing assistant instructor, meets with Northwood students twice a month to help them pack in the 16 hours of hands-on practice necessary for the CAN exam. It saves the students time and money because they can practice in their own school for free instead of paying to practice in another school during time off.
“This is built into the semester,” she said. “It’s a great opportunity for students, because you’re not using all that evening and weekend time when they’re busy and on the run.”
For Grand Forks School District, which had seen declining enrollment in recent years, ACTC is also an efficient use of time and resources.
The qualified instructors it already has can fill up their schedule, Ripley said. “If you have three kids interested in auto classes, how do you support that? That’s generally what has always been a limiting factor.”
Students love it
Grand Forks students, who make up about 70 percent area enrollment at ACTC, remarked how eye-opening the experience has been.
To understand someone with dementia, they did tasks while fitted with goggles in a dark room with a strobe light. They also wore gloves and shoes filled with popcorn kernels to distort their sense of touch, said Central High School student Bishop Jensen, 18.
“When you step on popcorn, you feel pressure points. You feel uneasy, like you’re almost walking on eggshells,” said Jensen, who isn’t sure yet if he wants to pursue a health care career. “Dementia’s a really complex disease that affects more than just the mind.”
The class allows students to try out a field before committing to it, something students say they like.
Emily Slominski, 17, at Central High School, said she’s grateful for the fast-paced class and wants to stay in-state for a job.
“I’m thinking occupational therapy, where you can still work in a nursing home for that, like physical therapy,” she said. “This is just kind of me working my way up.”
The fast-paced nature of the ACTC classes, especially the online portions, also help students prepare for college, according to Ripley.
“They have to be very on top of things, very proficient,” he said. “That has gone very well, and part of it is the fact that they’ve been interested in taking the courses, and never had the opportunity to take them in the past.”
As enrollment grows, Ripley’s future plans include adding agriculture classes to the roster and getting the nursing assistant program certified for rural students.
He said he’s trying to get the word out about ACTC. Many of the classes have long been available to students in Grand Forks, but not in rural areas.
“We want to encourage and educate communities and (let them know) this is an option now, and it never was before,” he said.