CNA program prepares students for healthcare careers

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The Certified Nursing Assistant program at Atlanta High School prepares students to enter the healthcare field immediately upon graduation.

For those who hope to continue their education in a medical field, the program gives them a good foundation and the ability to earn money while attending college.

“I’ve got one student who is going to college right now, and she’s already working on campus at the health clinic and making good money while going to school,” CNA instructor Kara Genning said.

Courses required in the four-year program are Principles of Health Science, Medical Terminology, Health Science Theory, and Health Science Practicum. The practicum class, taken during senior year, stays full with a maximum of 10 students and often has a waiting list.

During the first part of the practicum class, students learn fundamental skills in a lab with hospital beds and mannequins. Students talk to and treat the mannequins like actual patients.

“This is the real deal,” Genning said. “It’s like nursing school, like any licensing medical class you would take in college.”

Gennings’ classroom rules often mimic healthcare laws, like writing in only black ink and being dressed appropriately during clinicals.

“Students are representing me and our class, and Atlanta ISD has a really good reputation,” Gennings said. “We set the bar high with a 100% passing rate in the CNA program. So we don’t do things halfway.”

The program requires students to complete five eight-hour clinical days. The school partners with Golden Villa, and students are paired with CNAs for hands-on patient care.

“They’ll do what we call activities of daily living, vital signs and interviewing the residents,” Genning said. “They will witness several procedures, like administering medications, feeding tubes, catheters, IV therapy and diabetic care.”

In addition to learning patient care, one of Gennings’ goals is for her students to connect with their patients.

“I always teach my kids you have to have a passion deep down for this,” Genning said. “You’ve got to like and want to help people. Some of my students want to go back on their own time to visit their patients or residents because they’ve connected with them, and that means the world to me.”

Senior Haley Stebelton understands the importance of building relationships.

“My favorite thing is learning the indirect skills you need to work with patients, like being professional and making them feel good about themselves,” Stebelton said. “I want my patients to know that I’m not just there to work on them, but I am someone they can depend on to be a friend or be there to listen.”

Stebelton hopes to become a family nurse practitioner, and this program gives her a headstart on her plans.

“I feel blessed to be able to go ahead and get my CNA certification,” Stebelton said. “It’s just one less stressful thing to worry about, and I can go ahead with trying to get into nursing school.”

With plans to attend medical school, senior Carlos Cortes joined the CNA program because it was a great starting point that would open up opportunities after high school.

“This is a great program,” Cortes said. “I highly recommend it to anybody looking to get a feel for something in the medical field. This is definitely the place to start, and Mrs. Gennings is a great instructor.”

With the building of a new Career and Technical Education Center underway, Gennings hopes to see the program continue to grow because she sees the importance of the CNA position.

“The CNA is the most important provider in that healthcare team because they spend all the time with the patients,” Gennings said. “They are the eyes and ears for the doctors and nurses. They do their assessment, within their scope of practice, and report to the doctors and nurses. They are the ones who get the patient information firsthand.”