The front lines of hospitals and nursing homes are under severe duress – and help isn’t coming just from universities and nursing schools.
Employers are in need of nurse assistants, medical assistants and phlebotomists in caring for surging numbers of patients. Career schools with licenses from the Texas Workforce Commission are training and educating these essential workers.
Schools such as Careers Unlimited and South Texas Training Center are working to fill those needs. These schools and other institutions like them are often unsung but vital pieces. They prepare medical workers who assist both doctors and nurses in the daily operations of healthcare facilities.
Their programs consist of a handful of intensive weeks for nurse assistants training, and also months-long classes and externship work for medical assistant and patient care technician programs. Both rigorous state and national certification tests await students who complete the programs. From there, area hospitals, nursing homes and doctors’ offices are ready to hire graduates to fill their staffs.
Addressing the Urgency
The need for medical support workers has perhaps never been more important than it is now. The schools are feeling a sense of urgency to supply the workers needed.
“Hospitals and nursing homes desperately need nursing assistants right now,” said Javier Reyes, a registered nurse by training and the director of Careers Unlimited in Mission. “It’s an opportunity for our students to take advantage of the situation and be part of the solution.”
South Texas Training has schools in Pharr, San Benito and Laredo. It has trained certified nursing assistants for more than 20 years. The institution’s tenure of training is being put to the test as health care employers seek fresh graduates.
“We have seen all types of people from janitors, cooks (and) transportation attendants step up to train as nurse assistants at nursing homes that are in great need for help,” said Roman Silva, the chief financial officer for South Texas Training. “We definitely feel a responsibility to provide skilled and trained health care workers to combat the growing COVID crisis in our region.”
Making Adjustments in Instruction
Both schools have gone to hybrid systems of instruction due to COVID. Theory portions of instruction are now online. Hands-on skills portions are all taught at the campuses by appointment to limit numbers gathered at the schools. This includes techniques in phlebotomy, laboratories to simulate patient care and learning how to take blood pressures.
Students at these training schools tend to be visual learners. They learn by watching instructors versus a reliance on book learning. The hybrid system with online instruction thus presents challenges.
“It’s a struggle sometimes to keep their attention,” said Cristina Reyes, an administrator at Careers Unlimited, who with her husband, Javier, owns and operates the school. “It can be difficult to simulate what we teach here, but given the circumstances, the students have to get familiar with the technology part.”
Training students for entry level jobs in the medical field during a pandemic also adds an additional obstacle. Some students are undaunted. Others have a boost of confidence knowing they are up to dealing with the situation afoot in their communities.
“There is a small amount of fear that does set in during clinicals, but by all accounts, most students are motivated and feel strongly about finishing training and becoming a part of the ongoing challenge,” said Silva of South Texas Training.
Silva’s schools in the Valley and Laredo offer CNA programs, patient care technician, medical assistant programs and shorter seminar programs in phlebotomy. In addition to being licensed by the state, South Texas Training is accredited nationally by the Council on Occupational Education. Careers Unlimited offers CNA and patient care technician care programs in addition to electrocardiogram tech courses.
“Vocational training is very useful for many of our Valley youth,” Javier Reyes said. “There’s many opportunities out there for them right now in the healthcare field.”