Avera, Mitchell Area Regional Workforce combine to offer certified nursing assistant camp

·6 min read

Jul. 15—America needs more nurses.

According to a report from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the need for registered nurses is expected to grow by 12% from 2018 to 2028, compared to 7% growth across all occupations. The need for licensed practical nurses is projected to grow by 11%. And with certified nursing assistants, the need is expected to jump 9% over the same period.

Now a joint effort between the Mitchell Area Regional Workforce, part of the Mitchell Area Development Corporation, and Avera Health is planting seeds to help address that need by holding a certified nursing assistant training camp for a handful of students at Mitchell Technical College this week.

Karen Whitney, director for Mitchell Area Regional Workforce, said the certified nursing camp, which is in its first year of being held in Mitchell, is an effort to provide entry-level medical career training to interested students who can then take that training and use it to find a job or to continue their studies and go further in the field.

"What could be better than building a pipeline to a career and to get (students) into careers that we have right here in Mitchell," Whitney told the Mitchell Republic.

The program held in Mitchell, which ran from July 11-15, is based on a similar program Avera initiated in Yankton. Using funding obtained through grants, Avera was able to provide the camps at no costs to participants and had seen strong interest in the program. They usually open the classes to eight students who undergo a variety of classroom, hands-on and clinical training.

The students in the Mitchell program began their camp process in May with online courses. Once those were completed, instructors at the camp handle the in-person lessons on what duties a certified nursing assistant typically performs.

Whitney wanted to continue to offer the program, which can range up to and beyond $1,000 in costs per student, free of charge. Having had some success securing sponsors for similar camps held in Mitchell — such as a CTE and technology camp — she set out to do something similar to offset the costs for the students, many of whom are in their teens and still in high school.

"We currently don't have a big budget. But we got Tech Solutions to sponsor the tech camp, so maybe more of our businesses would be interested," Whitney said.

She found a partner with Advantage South Dakota through NorthWestern Energy. Advantage South Dakota is a group composed of business members from the James River Valley with the goal of enhancing the economic vitality of the region through collaboration and promotion of the positive outcomes that can be realized by relocating and/or expanding in the area, according to the Advantage South Dakota website. The partnership helps cover the costs of online coursework, instructors and other costs.

The program helps serve two purposes, Whitney said. First, it allows students to get a look at a career as a certified nursing assistant, something they will be qualified to be after completing the camp. It helps develop professionals that can help address a need for skilled workers. It's a job that is in demand throughout the state, with Mitchell being no exception, Whitney said.

"We need CNAs," Whitney said.

A certified nursing assistant, or CNA, helps patients with activities of daily living and other health care needs under the direct supervision of a registered nurse or licensed practical nurse. Some certified nursing assistants work a whole career in that position, while others use it as a springboard to becoming a registered nurse or licensed practical nurse or as a starting point to other healthcare-related careers.

Sheila Ulrich, director of Avera Education & Staffing Solutions in Yankton, said thanks to the demand for certified nursing assistants, the camps like the one in Mitchell can offer students a chance to have their choice of where they want to work in the state.

"(Upon completion of the camp) you're listed on the certified nurses registry. You can literally go anywhere in South Dakota and work. If you apply at any long-term facility, you're one step ahead of the person who doesn't have certification," Ulrich said.

Graduates of the camps need only to renew their certification every two years without having to go through the certification process all over again.

Ulrich said the students develop in their own ways throughout the in-person portion of the camp. As the camp starts, instructors help students find their personality type, which offers insight in how to interact with people whose personalities may be different than their own. They then work on staples of the profession, such as taking accurate blood pressure readings, among many other tasks.

The students learn to work together and share their newly-acquired knowledge, and instructors are there to supervise as well as instruct, Ulrich said. It's an environment that provides both technical and social lessons, and by the end of the camp, students and teachers have bonded over the process.

The experience is one those involved take with them, even if they go on to pursue different career paths in their lives.

"By the end, they're so excited to take pictures and share hugs," Ulrich said. "We had some students go through a camp in 2019 and a majority I still reach out today, even if they're in a different career path."

The benefits of the program are clear, Ulrich said. It gives students a chance to get their foot in the door to nursing or other health-related career fields while simultaneously addressing a shortage for in-demand employees.

Both Whitney and Ulrich said there are plans for another camp in Mitchell next year to complement a growing number of similar educational camps that are expected to be offered.

"(We do this) so we, as an organization, can make an impact on these individuals. How can we influence them in a positive way so that they'll want to step into the healthcare pipeline and provide that passion to others?" Ulrich said. "It makes an impact later on, so I do know that we plan to come back to Mitchell."

Whitney said she also hopes to see the program continue. With job opportunities around the state, including Mitchell, she would love to see more students go through the program and perhaps even stay and bolster the already substantial professional workforce in the community.

That benefits everyone, she said.

"It's a great opportunity. If they want to go to work, there are so many openings," Whitney said.

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