BOUNTIFUL -- Gaining real-world experience in the medical field is becoming easier for high school students in Davis School District as a result of a relatively new CNA certification program.
The Certified Nursing Assistant program is available at four high schools -- Viewmont, Northridge, Davis and Syracuse. Viewmont is considered the magnet school for the semester-long program, as students from high schools without it are allowed to take the course there.
The program is currently in its second year of operation.
"It lets the students get their foot in the door to the medical field. Some of them don't know if they really want to do medical, and it's an easy way to get a feel for it," said Tauna Wall, a registered nurse who works for Davis School District by helping coordinate the program as a clinical instructor.
Wall also mentioned that the CNA certification is a prerequisite to other medical education programs, such as medical internships or nursing school.
The course involves many hours of classroom work followed by three eight-hour rotations at a long-term care facility, said Suzie Kendell, CNA instructor at Viewmont.
Kendell said the students perform a lot of reading, vocabulary memorization and additional study. The course moves at a quick pace, which is often challenging for the students.
They are also required to learn how to evaluate the vitals for patients -- heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature. The students practice on each other and then are assigned homework to practice on family and friends.
Other skills they practice are feeding each other, brushing each other's teeth and changing a hospital bed with a person still in it.
Kendell said being on the receiving end of the experiences helps the students have more compassion for those they will serve.
The course requires students to learn and pass off 72 skills before they can perform their clinical service hours in a long-term care facility.
The capstone for the course is when the students take the Utah State CNA exam.
Kendell said the pass rate exceeds 90 percent at Viewmont, and that the other three high schools also have close to a 90 percent pass rate.
She said the fees students pay to take the course are significantly lower than if they were to take the course elsewhere.
The certification provides students with a qualification to achieve a well-paying job. Kendell said the hours are often flexible, providing them with a secure job while they attend high school and college.
Ryan Davis, a senior at Viewmont High School, completed the CNA program at Viewmont this past winter. Upon passing the exam, he was immediately offered a job as a private home health CNA caring for a terminally ill man in his home.
Prior to taking this course, Davis said, he was not particularly interested in a career in the medical field. As a result of this program, however, he now hopes to pursue an advanced education to become a geriatric doctor.
"The class covers so much information about the different areas of health care. It's not just about CNAs or nursing; there is a wide scope of different careers that you can participate in," Davis said.
"The class allows you to see the whole health care chain. It's not just the nurse -- there is a much bigger team taking care of (patients) ... In my time in the facilities and talking to professionals, it has given me confidence that there is a whole world of opportunities in the medical field."
Kaden Barlow, a senior at Layton High School, said the hands-on experience has been invaluable in helping him understand the concepts he read about in the classroom.
He hopes to become a nurse anesthetist -- a medical specialist who helps provide anesthetics to patients in collaboration with doctors.
He said the career appeals to him because it will allow him to stay with patients before, during and after surgeries.
"If you want to go into anything medical, it is a good start-off experience," Barlow said. "It's easier to get into school if you have (a CNA)."