116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Given that care facilities are desperate for certified nursing assistants, they and community colleges are offering a variety of training options for traditional and non-traditional students — for teens still in high school, moms heading back to work, men eyeing change, or even older workers reversing retirement plans.
“No experience necessary,” one MercyOne advertisement boasts. “On-the-job training.”
“Four-week CNA classes start soon,” according to another ad. “No college experience required.”
Kirkwood Community College’s nurse aide program offers flexible schedules — from a five-days-a-week option lasting four weeks to a once-a-week hybrid version spanning 10 weeks.
Lab and class times run in four-hour blocs, according to Katie Lyman, dean of Kirkwood’s Health Occupations & Simulation Center who oversees the CNA program.
“We lose interest if we go longer than four hours at a time,” she said.
The high school CNA courses are 1.5 hours long over 47 days — equal to about 9.5 five-day weeks.
All of Iowa’s 15 community colleges offer CNA-training programs of some kind, mandating 75 to 85 hours. Students have to pass a state skills test and state written exam to be certified in Iowa’s Direct Care Workers Registry.
The Kirkwood program requires students pass a physical exam, be at least 16 and comply with a background check. The school also requires 100 percent attendance to pass the program, which is graded on a pass-fail basis.
The program begins with a classroom portion and ends with in-person lab instruction and a clinical experience meant to occur in a care setting — although that had to happen in the lab during the pandemic.
Although Kirkwood still is doing clinicals in the lab, the school hopes to transition back to finishing its CNA training in a care setting, Layman said.
“I think it's vitally important that our students are actually at a facility and that they see human beings,” she said.
That piece also can serve as a job interview.
“Students and staff are engaging with one another, and it can be a real opportunity for students to get a free interview out of the out of the process,” Lyman said.
Within the lab, Kirkwood has a list of 30 skills it teaches, from personal hygiene and resident hygiene to checking pulse and blood pressure or responding in an emergency to an obstructed airway, for example.
Kirkwood also offers refresher courses for CNAs who’ve been out of the field for a while. And it allows students trained through another college or program to take the 100-question state competency exam at its testing center.
Among the financial aid options for CNA students needing help with tuition and testing expenses is the state’s Gap Tuition Assistance Program — aimed at helping community college students in need complete certificate training programs.
The 2021 budget for the gap assistance program was $2.5 million — of which $2 million was appropriated and half a million was carried forward, according to the most recent annual Condition of Iowa’s Community Colleges report.
The state has approved 534 programs for gap funding, and CNA programs had the highest enrollment in the last budget year — with 518 students receiving aid, followed by a distant second 297 recipients in commercial driving programs.
Ottumwa-based Indian Hills Community College recently accepted students into the state’s first CNA to licensed practical nurse apprenticeship program — made possible through federal and state coronavirus aid.
Vanessa Miller covers higher education for The Gazette.
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