October 1, 2023 Breaking News, Latest News, and Videos

SMC Creates New Path for Nursing Assistants

Short-term program has no enrollment fee & is one of a dozen-plus such noncredit certificates

By the Public Information Office, Santa Monica College.

What comes with no enrollment fee, is created especially to meet workforce needs, and gets those who want to jumpstart a career to their goal ASAP? The answer: noncredit programs at Santa Monica College. One of the lesser known gems at a local community college perhaps known best for its stellar record in transfer education, these short-term, career/competency-driven programs are growing—from a mere handful several years ago, there are over 19 such noncredit certificates available (with more in the works) in fields including customer service, sustainability, bicycle maintenance and more. The latest noncredit offering—launched during the Fall 2022 semester—is the Certified Nursing Assistant program. This feature offers a look back at the early days of this latest SMC noncredit program’s maiden voyage:

Trainees Isaura Gutierrez and Iris Carrillo are taking “patient” Henry Munguin’s vital signs. Once they’ve eased him from the hospital bed into a stable sitting position, Gutierrez wraps the blood pressure cuff around Henry’s arm. Iris places a digital thermometer in his mouth. Then they carefully maneuver him into the wheelchair waiting by his bedside.  

“Perfect,” says SMC Health Sciences instructor Juliet Carter-Daley, the program’s head instructor, as the students complete the transfer. 

Eric J. Williams, SMC nursing program director & interim associate dean of health sciences (extreme left), and Juliet Carter-Daley (center), SMC Certified Nursing Assistant program head instructor, with the first cohort of the short-term noncredit certificate program at Santa Monica College.

It’s their second day focusing on long-term care. Still to come are modules on rehabilitative nursing, observation and charting, death and dying, and patient abuse. Henry is a CNA trainee playing the role of an elderly patient in a mock hospital ward on the Bundy Campus. 

Week-four and week-five saw the trainees outside the classroom and in a skilled nursing facility. Under Carter-Daley’s watchful eye, they assisted RNs caring for real residents at Marycrest Manor in Culver City.  

Five of the 11 SMC trainees continued their training in the follow-on Home Health Aide certificate program, also led by Carter-Daley and new this semester. That two-week, 54-hour program concluded its inaugural run October 14. 

The push for these noncredit certificate courses is driven by urgent workforce needs. 

“We have a terrible shortage of certified nursing assistants, just as we have a terrible shortage of registered nurses,” says Eric Williams, director of SMC’s Nursing Program and interim associate dean of health sciences. “Our goal is to build a pipeline.”

The CNA’s job is to support registered nurses by providing basic hygiene and patient care. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor,  there are fewer than 100,000 CNAs in California, a state with six million senior citizens. This yawning workforce gap converges with rising demand for low-cost, easy-to-access learning opportunities for “post-traditional” students—people who increasingly look to community colleges for vocational training. 

While California has hundreds of CNA training programs—there are 130 in Los Angeles County alone, including seven at area community colleges—many require three months to complete, and average tuition and fees run around $1,800. At for-profit colleges, that price tag gets steeper.

The beauty of SMC’s new program is that it’s compressed into just five weeks. And because it’s noncredit, it can be delivered tuition-free. “Noncredit classes have no enrollment fees,” explains Scott Silverman, dean of noncredit and external programs. 

In all other respects, the new program is similar to for-credit CNA certificate programs. No grades are given, but students receive progress indicators and the certificate is noted on their transcripts.

Short, but not Sacrificing Rigor

Enrolling in “Health 985 and 986: Certified Nursing Assistant” requires committing to three weeks of intensive foundational training followed by two weeks of clinical practicums in a skilled nursing facility. The program is fully accredited, and it’s rigorous. Students completing the 180-hour curriculum are eligible to sit for the NNAAP competency exam required for state licensure.

“My students are very focused,” says Carter-Daley, an RN with extensive prior experience teaching CNA courses. “They’re working hard, and they’re really making it a priority to get this done.”

Classes—comprised of 17 lectures and 17 lab modules—meet five days a week, eight hours a day. “They come in at 7 a.m., and they’re ready to go,” she adds. 

The effort pays dividends almost immediately. 

“Some want to become RNs, so they’re doing this certificate as a way to get into a nursing program,” Carter-Daley says. Others will find steady jobs in hospitals and skilled nursing facilities. CNAs in California earn on average $40,000 a year.

An Invaluable Learning Opportunity

Jose Abularach, 24, and his sister Katie, 20, are learning a lot in the class. Both are current SMC students eyeing a pre-nursing major. When they heard about the CNA program through SMC’s Adelante Program, they signed up immediately.   

“Normally this class is very expensive,” Abularach says. “I know—because we’ve been looking at other programs.”

Originally from Guatemala, the siblings live with their parents in Culver City. For Katie, the first day cemented her decision to apply for admission to SMC’s selective nursing program. Jose is still on the fence. For now, he’s an undecided major working fulltime as a Starbucks barista.  

Siblings Jose and Katie Abularach are among the first students in Santa Monica College’s noncredit Certified Nursing Assistant certificate program, which has no enrollment fee associated with it and was launched this fall semester.

Whatever the future holds, Jose is grateful to have this credential under his belt. 

“I will always have these skills,” he says. 

Following in her Grandmother’s Foosteps

For Iris Carrillo, 21, SMC’s noncredit CNA certificate came as a godsend. 

Inspired by her grandmother, a nurse back in her native Mexico, Iris dreams of a career in travel nursing. In June, she finished the two-year ADN degree at Cal State Fullerton and is currently applying to BSN programs. Her top choice is Ohio State University, but she’s also looking at schools in Mississippi and Washington. 

Currently, Carrillo works as a board certified behavior analyst for Autism Learning Partners, and she has a second job as an on-site chef for various caterers. To get a jump on GE requirements for her BSN, she’s enrolled in two online courses this fall.

Clearly, she has no free time, but over the summer she started looking into CNA certificate programs. In some states, though not in California, the credential is a requirement for nursing school admission. It’s also a terrific resume booster. The cost and time-commitment, however, were great obstacles.  

“Some other CNA programs I looked at take a year or half a year,” Carrillo says. “I don’t have that much time. And I don’t have thousands of dollars on top of the nursing school tuition I will have to pay.”

The CNA training she’s receiving at SMC is “a crucial part of my education, because it allows me to be a shadow and watch how nurses operate. To eavesdrop. To see what works for them and what works for me.”

For now, that means taking Henry for a ride around the skills lab. 

Rolling the wheelchair back to the bedside, Isaura Gutierrez and Iris Carrillo hold him in a careful two-person hug, lift and pivot his torso, then gently arrange his legs and tip him back into a recumbent position. Using the sheet underneath, they shift him up the bed, lowering his head and arms on surrounding pillows. Draping his form with the blanket, they bid him: “Goodnight.”

For more information on all of Santa Monica College’s noncredit programs and classes, visit smc.edu/noncredit.

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