Bitterroot College is partnering with Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital to restructure its Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) course to include classroom teaching and clinical experiences for acute care.

MDMH acute care coordinator Brittany Leatham-Olney said it is an addition to the focus on long term care training that offers hands on skills and opportunities in The Living Centre in Stevensville.

“We decided to restructure the program and are redoing the syllabus, learning materials and are now structuring with Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital so we can focus on acute care,” Leatham-Olney said. “We are still focusing on the long term, and we still have a partnership with The Living Centre. Now our students will do clinicals at both locations to get a well-rounded focus of education and experience.”

The goal is have more CNAs able to do both long term care and acute care and feel confident with their training.

“We want them to see both sides to see what their niche is,” Leatham-Olney said. “We have some students that would be great in hospice, long term or acute care, so this is expanding this out for them.”

Bitterroot College has offered the CNA training since 2013 with clinical trainings at Discovery Care Center in Hamilton and The Living Centre in Stevensville. This is the first year the training will also be held at Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital.

Leatham-Olney is the coordinator and the main clinical instructor for the program, and Crystal Wetherald, LPN, is the instructor at The Living Center.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “(Nationwide) the median annual wage for nursing assistants was $28,540 in May 2018 and the overall employment of nursing assistants and orderlies is projected to grow 9% from 2018 to 2028, faster than the average for all occupations. As the baby-boom population ages, nursing assistants and orderlies will be needed to assist and care for elderly patients.” In 2018 there were 1,564,200 nursing assistant and orderly jobs available, nationwide.

The most recent Bitterroot College courses have reached the maximum enrollment of 10 students.

“Our hospital currently has three positions open, and I’m sure the long term facilities have a need as well,” Leatham-Olney said.

Bitterroot College class requires that students are age 16 or older, but do not have to be high school graduates. Since it is workforce training, college admission is not required.

The six-week CNA class is structured with long days on Saturdays and Sundays, and evenings only on Tuesdays and Thursdays so that current high school students or others with full time jobs can attend.

“At the very end they do have to take certification testing through Head Master (an online exam), but we put it on,” Leatham-Olney said. “Our students are so well prepared for that test. I attribute it to Crystal. Then they are ready to go be CNAs.”

For the newest CNAs, the pay begins at $9 to $11 per hour with additional $4 for night shift.

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“That’s a good chunk of change, $16 per hour for a high school student, then they can go up from there,” Leatham-Olney said.

A CNA certification fills the need for hospitals and care facilities while putting students on a path to a medical career.

“It gets their foot in the door,” Leatham-Olney said. “At MDMH we have three CNAs who will graduate from nursing school this month. Then they’ll test and become nurses and we’ll have new CNA spots to start the trend all over again. They have already been hired by a hospital and get to start our new grad nurse program. It is great experience. Those that start as CNAs get more exposure, terminology and routines.”

Registration begins Jan. 2 and the next class begins Jan. 25.

Other Health Profession and Workforce Training programs at Bitterroot College (college admission not required) include Certified Clinical Medical Assistant, Certified Phlebotomy Technician, Dental Assisting, EKG Technician, Medical Administrative Assistant and Pharmacy Technician.

Bitterroot College offers prerequisite courses for admissions to Montana's distant delivered Practical Nursing and Registered Nursing programs as well as Montana State University’s bachelor of science in nursing program delivered at the University of Montana. Bitterroot College also offers prerequisite courses for a variety of health profession degree programs including Medical Assisting, Pharmacy Technology, Radiologic Technologist, Respiratory Care and Surgical Technology. College admission is required for these classes.

For more information contact Bitterroot College at 103 S. 9th St., in Hamilton, call 406-375-0100 or email bc@umontana.edu.