Students at Pearl-Cohn Magnet High School and Maplewood High School received job offers after piloting a patient care technician certification program hosted by Nashville State Community College and HCA TriStar Health.

The program, put together by Pearl-Cohn Academy Coach Brittany Edmondson, school principal Miriam Harrington, Nashville State Dean of Health Care Professions Cynthia Waller and TriStar Health, among others, gave students the opportunity to attend a two-week class and one-week clinical period, which would end in their certification as patient care technicians.

Edmondson, who initially put the program together for Pearl-Cohn seniors before inviting Maplewood students to apply as well, said the results for students have been fantastic, in large part due to the incredible work ethic of the students.

“There were people who weren’t quite convinced that this group of students, this group of young people, would be able to complete the program,” Edmondson said.

Edmondson said 87% of the students at Pearl-Cohn come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, often taking on part-time jobs to help their families and sometimes falling behind in school because of the responsibilities of their life outside. It creates a negative stereotype about those students, Edmondson said.

“But what happened, that first day they showed up and it was four hours of lecture, and they sat there, they were attentive, they were taking notes,” Edmondson said.

The students showed that they saw and understood the opportunity, and they worked so hard that every single one of them left the program with a job offer or two.

Edmondson said the program was devised after she arrived to the school district in 2019, having conducted a survey of students and their families to see what sort of programming they would be interested in.

Health care came up a lot, she said, and so she resolved to create an academy path revolving around health care careers, connecting with area hospitals and making other connections to set plans in motion.

They implemented shadowing programs, field trips and other in-classroom instruction to start off, but Edmondson said the long-term goal was to create some sort of certification for students to secure them an opportunity at a well-paying job.

She spoke with Waller about creating a program, and over time they developed the patient care technician certification.

The program runs over the course of a month. Students in the pilot cohort began April 12 with two weeks of classroom and lab instruction totaling four hours per night. Then they took one week of supervised clinicals in which they did the work alongside working professionals.

They left the class with the certification that allows them to work with hospital patients at a low level, such as recording a patient’s blood pressure.

Edmondson said jobs for patient care technicians typically begin around $15.50 per hour, with some starting around $17.

It’s a big deal for students, many of whom were working minimum or lower-wage jobs to help their families, Edmondson said, before beginning the program.

It’s also a big deal for students who weren’t sure how to pursue a health care career but took their first steps through the program.

One such student is 19-year-old India Turntine, who said she’s aiming to be a pediatric nurse, and was excited for the opportunity to finish her clinicals next week and start a job at TriStar Centennial Medical Center in June.

“I’m definitely hoping to continue and further my education in the medical field,” Turntine said. “I see patient care as like a start, a jumping point for me.”

Turntine said that during the certification program, she and other students had the opportunity to speak to working professionals, and one told her how she had started as a patient care technician before climbing to another position.

Turntine said she wants to do the same. She described herself as a person dedicated to working, and said she’s proud of the results she’s seeing through the program.

But before starting the program, Turntine said she wasn’t sure it would be worth it.

She already had a job, she said, and though she didn’t necessarily need the money, she did enjoy working and considers working to be important to her. Only after Edmondson and Harrington mentioned it to her did she decide she would leave her job to take part.

She lost 2½ weeks of income, but with her new job, which will pay a bit more and provide her with more hours in the form of 12-hour shifts, she said it was worthwhile.

“I think the program was a great experience, and more young people should do it,” she said.

She added that she was going back to class Monday night to learn how to draw blood and perform CPR, additional certifications that in turn could result in a higher paycheck.

Turntine said she’s looking forward to graduating this month, having both caught up on credit recovery and finished the certification in April. She said she may travel after she graduates, taking the opportunity before starting the first day of the rest of her life.

Edmondson said she and the other partners in the program are excited about its future and are looking to run more certification courses in the coming months. In the future, they may also open them up to community members, including parents who have asked if they could also get certified through the program.

Edmondson said they’re giving priority to students, but she’s excited to see interest among families.

“That right there is impact,” Edmondson said. “That’s how you change poverty, that’s how you transform the community.”

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