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During COVID-19, CNA students practice skills in new lab

Oct 28, 2020 04:13PM ● By Julie Slama

Certified Nursing Assistant students practice turning and positioning skills in the program’s new lab at Canyons Technical Education Center. (Photo courtesy of Mary Lee Hackman/CTEC)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Everything looks a little different these days, thanks to changes in response to COVID-19, and the Certified Nursing Assistant program at Canyons Technical Education Center is no different.

“Typically, our students do clinicals in a contracted local long-term facility, but they can’t do that right now because of COVID, so instead, they come into the lab once per week and practice those skills,” said CNA instructor Mary Lee Hackman. “I’m so grateful that our lab has been upgraded. It’s been a whirlwind figuring out everything to give our students their training and with this option, it’s made it a lot better.”

Canyons’ CNA program is designed for juniors and seniors who are 16 years old and want a “peek into the world of medicine,” she said, adding that nurse assisting is one of the fastest growing professions in the United States.

About 30 students typically attend CTEC for 2.5 hours each weekday where they study nutrition, basic human anatomy, physiology, medical terminology as well as CPR.  

On top of that, there are the clinicals where students typically provide patient care, assess the patient’s wellness, report changes in the patient condition and take their vital signs. They also can perform range of motion tests and assist with positioning the patients.

During the pandemic, these skills are being performed at the lab, which was upgraded this summer, and now features four hospital beds with mechanical lifts. There also is a wall plate with oxygen and suction, working call lights and other amenities. 

Hackman, who recently returned to the program after launching it in 2011, gave up her office space to revamp the space and provide students a devoted lab.

“The district has provided the equipment that is helping the students become more comfortable and confident in their skills,” she said, saying students practice with one another and with mannequins during this time. “It’s a wonderful lab that is modeled after long-term care facilities. During COVID, we’re taking extra safety precautions with masks, hygiene, sanitation and seating charts. We’re also putting to use the skills we’ve learned such as taking our vital signs and checking our temperatures and understanding the importance of those.”

While Hackman said those who are heading into medicine can benefit from the program and many indicate that being nurses, nurse practitioners or physicians may be their end goal.

“This is an eye-opening experience to guide them into medicine. It will fuel their passion. Or they may learn that this isn’t the career they want to continue, and it will save them money in college,” she said. 

The program costs about $300 to $360, which includes a blood pressure cuff and stethoscope, CPR and first aid course fees as well as additional curriculum and fees. Students can receive up to two credits of high school elective or CTE credit and three concurrent college credit if registered at Salt Lake Community College.

For those interested in pursuing the medical field, many colleges in Utah require CNA experience to apply to a nursing program.

It also leads them to a study for the state certification or Nurse Aide Training and Competency Evaluation Program, which includes a written and a skills test, and is required by state law to work as a nursing assistant in a nursing home, skilled care center or other health facility.

Students also have the option to be involved with HOSA, the student future health professionals club formerly known as Health Occupations Students of America, competing at the local, state and national levels. Last spring, CNA students placed in the top three at state and were set to compete at nationals until the response to COVID-19 shut down the competition. 

Students also participate in a fall leadership conference, which this year, was slated to be held virtually.