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CNA Students Start Their Medical Career Journey Tuition Free

Payton Hollar and Mariah Hood are the first two Certified Nurse Assistants to earn their credentials tuition-free through WCCC’s new apprentice program. Funded by a $2 million grant from the United States Department of Labor, WCCC partnered with Western Colorado Area Health Education Center (WCAHEC) and 51 healthcare facilities in the Grand Valley, Delta and Montrose to expand the local healthcare workforce and remove the tuition barrier for those who have hearts to help others.

This opportunity is open to anyone over the age of 17 who is not currently enrolled in high school and can commit to a one-year paid apprenticeship in home health, assisted living, long-term care, rehab or hospice.

“If students can't afford college, they now have a means to get training and become a certified nurse aide/nursing assistant which is a great foundation to becoming a nurse or any healthcare professional for that matter. It's a fantastic first step into the world of patient care and the places it can take one are endless,” said WCCC Allied Health Program Coordinator Kris Mathwig.

“The program is super important to the Grand Valley, especially right now, because there is a shortage of CNAs in the workforce. Some facilities are even offering $5,000-10,000 bonuses,” Mathwig said.

Alleviating these shortages means improving the quality of care for patients in understaffed facilities, while simultaneously improving the working conditions for overworked nurses and CNAs. Nurse aides are highly sought after across the United States, for permanent, travel and in-home care assignments. Mathwig often receives phone calls from families looking to hire graduates for private in-home caregiving opportunities, many of which require help on trips and vacations.

Both Hollar and Hood have big dreams for careers in the medical field and are well on their way. They are grateful that they are able to fully focus on their studies and apprenticeship duties, rather than worrying about how to pay for tuition. Without this grant funding, both would have needed student loans.

Hollar has always been fascinated by the brain and neurology. After her apprenticeship with St. Mary’s Hopsital, she plans to earn her MD. “For as long as I can remember I have wanted to go into medicine. I have always loved science and puzzles,” Hollar said. “I want to diagnose people — so learning about what their symptoms are and figuring out the best care plan for each patient is something I am very passionate about. I want to be part of the team that gives people the best care so that they can have the greatest quality of life possible.”

Hood is also apprenticing with St. Mary’s and plans to later earn her LPN and BSN, specializing in labor and delivery. “I had my heart set on enrolling in this program because it is an excellent stepping stone leading to my future goals,” Hood said. “It was such a blessing to be offered the opportunity to not only have the tuition paid for but to be able to reference the experience on my resume. I believe that starting from the bottom and working your way up teaches you to appreciate the people in other roles you will work with in the future.”

Students begin with coursework, clinicals and taking the CNA exam. Once students pass the exam, they begin their 12-month paid apprenticeship. During this time they take monthly skill competency tests, complete 40 additional educational hours and enjoy a pay raise. Then students receive two certificates from the U.S. Department of Labor, one for completing the 40 educational and 40 experiential hours, and one for completing the yearlong healthcare apprenticeship. 

This fall there are 5 different sessions being offered for the coursework, ranging from 4 to 8 weeks in length. For details visit the WCCC Allied Health Programs Website. To enroll contact Kris Mathwig. [email protected]



Written by Hannah Odneal