Making the Grade: Medical program gets students into field sooner

For students interested in a health care career, the options are more extensive than many often realize. At Gwinnett Technical College in Lawrenceville, programs that train medical assistants and nurses are offered, along with another opportunity that has been steadily growing. The Patient Care Assistant certificate program is designed to get students out of the classroom and into the job market after one semester of study and hands-on training.

“Across the country and definitely in Georgia, there is a workforce shortage of health care providers,” said Indira Tyler, Gwinnett Tech’s dean of nursing sciences. “With the Affordable Care Act, more of the population is coming into the health care system and seeking and getting care. At same time, more people are getting older and needing health care more, and they’re entering the system with acute and chronic issues. So health care providers are in demand, and certified patient care assistants are on the front line to provide that care.”

This term, 15 students who completed their core courses are now taking the assistant classes that provide the skills to take vital signs, obtain lab specimens, assist patients with daily activities, chart information and communicate with nurses and other care providers. Students can opt to attend full or part-time with day, evening and online classes. Graduates go on to work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, assisted living centers, rehabilitation centers, physicians’ offices and private homes.

“A certified patient care assistant is often the first line of care,” said Tyler. “It’s a great position for individuals seeking an entry into health care or who want to explore that career. This course gives them a strong foundation, so much so that a lot of individuals see it as a stepping stone to continue into nursing.”

Along with classroom studies around nutrition, medical terminology and anatomy, the program emphasizes hands-on, clinical experience. Students spend time in an acute-care setting or rehabilitation center under the care of a supervising instructor.

“We have students perform more than 135 clinic hours, so they have a solid foundation,” said Tyler.

For student and Lawrenceville resident Kristina Hansard, 22, working with real patients in a hospital was a highlight of the program.

“I got to apply what we learned in class to live people,” she said. “It was a little nerve wracking at first, but after a few days, I felt comfortable and got more confident in my skills and abilities. For me, working with patients is what I want to do, and this program is helping me do it. In fact, I was in a nursing program, and it didn’t work out, but I wanted to get back into something in health care this was the best way. And now I’m thinking about continuing onto nursing school.”

In January, the program will also be offered for the first time on the school’s North Fulton campus in Alpharetta that has been open for one year. Tyler hopes to have a full roster of 20 students when classes start.

“Our hope is to maintain enrollment here and put even more patient assistants into the community,” she said. “The need and demand are there. We hope to meet that demand and provide the health care industry with assistants who are committed and capable.”

Information about the Patient Care Assistant program at Gwinnett Technical College: