Students on the nursing pathway at the Bartow County College and Career Academy (BCCCA) aren’t limited to taking notes and reading textbooks in a classroom to learn the career skills they need.
Donna Mathias’ 24 nursing students practice and perfect their techniques in a fully equipped lab set up like a hospital, complete with seven hospital beds with night stands and privacy curtains, mannequins (named Fred, Muriel, Sasha, George and Chunga Wunga), blood pressure cuffs, thermometer machines, physician scales, hospital gowns and potty chairs.
The lab was already at BCCCA when the school opened three years ago, “but we had to do some remodeling,” Mathias, lead health care instructor, said. When Cass High School occupied the building, her lab was two classrooms, and a wall had to be removed to turn them into one large room.
“This was the health care lab at that time,” she said. “If you could’ve seen it, this is a 100 percent improvement over that.”
The makeover included all new medical equipment, supplies and furnishings that were funded by Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) revenue and state and federal grants, including Construction-Related Equipment (CRE) state grants, “which means we can buy the major equipment that we need because we are putting in a new lab,” Mathias said.
“For each new class that we’re doing, they give us a CRE grant, and sometimes, it may be $50,000; sometimes, it may be $80,000,” she said. “It just depends on whether it’s brand-new or just upgrades.”
Mathias added her lab, which is “more for the actual nursing-care classes,” was the first of three health care labs created at the academy. A sports medicine lab is next door, and a phlebotomy lab is down the hall.
“My lab came first, where I ordered all the beds and all the other equipment for this room,” she said. “So when we first started in ’13, we just had the four beds and all this stuff.”
Dr. Paul Sabin, BCCCA’s principal and CEO, said the academy actually received two CRE grants: $40,500 for the sports medicine lab and $54,000 for the nursing lab.
“In addition to these funds, we have also used Perkins Program Improvement [federal] grants alongside local instructional dollars,” he said. “The two labs were renovated using state grant money for the College and Career Academy Grant. We spent about $300,000 per lab of the $3.2 million academies grant we received in 2013. Finally, we were able to provide furnishings for the lab using SPLOST dollars allocated to the school system. As you can see, it takes a lot of support to implement a quality health care program.”
In Mathias’ 80-minute morning class and her 75-minute afternoon class, students learn everything they need to become a certified nursing assistant (CNA).
“They take the boards and they get their [state] license to practice as a certified nursing assistant,” she said, noting her first class is composed of dual-enrollment students who are earning college credit. “They do anything and everything to assist someone with their activities of daily living. You don’t stop and think about the elderly or anybody else that really can’t take care of themselves. They need to be fed, dressed, bathed, the bed changed, get them up and walk, whatever. Brush their teeth. They do the bed baths and showers. Getting them out of bed and putting them in a wheelchair. Just anything that they need that they can’t do for themselves.”
Students practice most of the 22 skills they learn, such as taking blood pressure, temperatures and other vital signs, on each other, Mathias said.
“There’s only a couple of the skills that they have to do with the mannequin,” she said. “The rest of them they do with each other. They have to do baths, and they do foot care and all this stuff with each other. Brush each other’s teeth and everything.”
Once Mathias is satisfied with what they’ve learned in the lab, the students test their skills at their clinical site, Townsend Park Nursing Home, where they work an eight-hour shift one day a week for three weeks.
“They actually get in there and work and do just like the CNAs,” she said.
Students also complete 16 hours at Cartersville Medical Center.
“So they’ll all get three days at the nursing home and two days at the hospital,” Mathias said. “They get the experience from both facilities, you know, different atmospheres, different duties. And when they get done with that, then they take their state board exam. If they pass it, they can walk right out and get a job.”
To enroll in the CNA class, students need to have at least a C average and have taken Introduction to Health Care and Essentials of Health Care, Mathias said. The dual-enrollment students also had to pass the COMPASS entrance exam from Chattahoochee Technical College.
Mathias said many nursing schools want their students to already have their CNA license.
“You’ve got 300 or 400 kids trying to get 50 slots [in nursing programs],” she said. “But if you’ve got your CNA license already, you’re kind of going up to the top of the list. ... It gives them a leg up on everything.”
Alexis Johnson, a junior at Woodland High School, said she enrolled in the CNA class because it’s “going to start putting me on my pathway to nursing.”
“I want to be a neonatal nurse or a neonatal practitioner, like a baby doctor,” she said. “It’s definitely interesting. It’s going to put me on the right path for where I need to go, what I need to do.”
Adairsville High junior Taylor Whitley said the CNA program is the first step toward his career in the health care field.
“I want to do something in health care so I figured this is the best start I could get,” he said, noting he wants to be a physician. “I just like the fact that I can get ahead. These classes are good for any college in the state, pretty much.”
In the first month of school, Johnson and Whitley have learned to take vitals and to understand medical terminology and basic principles regarding patients’ rights, advance directives and health care ethics.
Health care has grown into the largest program at BCCCA, according to Sabin, and Mathias, who taught health care at Cass High before moving to the academy, now heads a department of three teachers.
“The first year, I had about 55 or 60 students in health care,” she said. “The second year, I got a second teacher [Rhonda Hendrix], thank goodness, and we had about 160 students, so it basically doubled that year. This year, we have right around 200, maybe a little more, and we also have a third teacher [Harry Wyche].”
Besides teaching the program’s first two classes and the CNA class, the instructors also teach four other advanced health care courses: patient care technician, phlebotomy technician, pharmacy technician and sports medicine.