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Certified nursing assistant numbers remain strong at Gateway
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Certified nursing assistant numbers remain strong at Gateway

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Student and course section numbers for Gateway Technical College’s certified nursing assistant program numbers have remained high as the college works to meet the needs of students and employers through adding more courses and hiring more instructors.

Sara Skowronski, CNA instructor and program chair, says more than 250 students took CNA courses in the spring semester and 300 studied in the summer semester, with an additional 350 openings scheduled for this fall. Those numbers include traditional Gateway course sections, which are open to registration for anyone as well as sections contracted by area high schools for their students.

As an example, 60 high school students from Racine County took CNA training offered this summer by Gateway. Courses continue to be offered on the Racine campus this summer.

Factors drive demand

Why the high demand? Skowronski said there’s an increased public awareness of nurses and health care careers because of their work with the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic. Area workers in long-term facilities want to be certified as CNAs and employers are also seeking CNAs to fill open positions.

“There’s also been displaced workers who have turned to becoming a CNA as a way to get back into the workforce,” said Skowronski. “Those already in the field want to gain the certification because that will, many times, result in a pay raise.”

Getting innovative

Gateway’s numbers remained high despite hurdles it had to overcome at the outset of the pandemic.

Emergency orders were put into play. Clinical sites were off-limits to students.

“We couldn’t train on the job,” said Skowronski. “We initially thought that would put us out of business for a while.”

But the college sought another route, writing a waiver request — which was accepted — to the state based on new exceptions to the permanent federal rules that govern CNA training put into place because of the pandemic. The college moved quickly to change its educational delivery to simulated and lab-based settings, which would still meet federal and state laws.

The result was a new, innovative way to not only continue, but expand, training to CNA students that preserved the high standards of the college’s curriculum and state requirements.

Skowronski said instructors tailored those simulated clinical hours to specific situations CNAs face on the job to ensure students are prepared once they enter their career.

The result is that students may experience an even greater number of situations to be trained in than they did prior to the pandemic.

“Sometimes in the clinical setting you were unsure what students would experience, said Skowronski. “This way we are creating scenarios where students have to think critically about the best way to address them. They meet all the required competencies.”

Pass rates “The pass rates for our students is a testament to our training and the students,” said Skowronski. “Those rates are high, and the students are trained properly.”

There will be a time when clinical sites open up and training will need to be tweaked again. But the simulated lab experiences created through the pandemic will likely remain because of the even more robust learning experience students enjoy.

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