Northwestern illuminates nursing pathway for nonclinical workers

Kiana Smith joined Northwestern Medicine two years ago as a Panera Bread employee before becoming a security guard in the emergency department. Time around patients sparked her interest in a clinical role, and thanks to a systemwide program, she achieved the career leap. 

In 2022, the Chicago-based system launched a basic nursing assistant training program in preparation for the growing nursing shortage. The program is geared toward hospital employees in nonclinical roles who are interested in nursing, such as those in environmental services, housekeeping, food services, security and front desk positions.

After 16 weeks of training, the students take the Illinois Nurse Aide Competency Certification Exam. 

The program has graduated 27 people and 11 are in patient care technician roles across the health system, including Ms. Smith, who works on a general medicine floor at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, according to a health system news release

"I have a passion for caring for people, and my next step is nursing school," Ms. Smith said in the release. "I've always had plenty of jobs, but never a career. I'm here today thanks to hard work, determination and this amazing program through Northwestern Medicine."

More than 50% of the program's graduates are now in nursing school, according to Northwestern Program Director Tacora Love, MSN, RN. 

"I think the program ignited a flame," said Ms. Love, an instructor who helped develop the curriculum.

Most nursing schools require applicants to be a certified nursing assistant, and CNA programs can cost thousands of dollars and conflict with 40-hour workweeks, Ms. Love told Becker's. At Northwestern, there's no cost and students' managers work with the instructors to accommodate schedules. 

The program has taught students — with ages ranging from 19 to 51 — about nursing through weekly lessons in classrooms, labs and clinical settings. The hard and soft skills, including time management and emotional intelligence, have helped empower people looking for their next step, Ms. Love said. 

On July 26, the program will welcome its first class of external students.

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