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Nursing Assistant Students Fill Crucial Hospital Roles During the Pandemic

Edmondson-Westside CTE offers students a head start on healthcare careers. 

Edmondson-Westside senior Makayla Cotto is heading to Coppin State on a full scholarship, but right now she’s fully focused on the patient in front of her: a motorcycle accident victim with dangerously high blood pressure. Makayla alerts her supervising nurse and shares the patient’s vital signs so the proper medication can be administered — all while committing each step to memory. 

Then she’s onto her next patient at the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC). During one of the most challenging moments in the history of medicine, Makayla and her nine fellow seniors in Edmondson-Westside’s nursing assistant program were delivering crucial support in the trauma, surgical, and telemetry areas — as well as the lung resuscitation unit, where patients recovered from the damage of Covid. 

“I didn’t imagine I’d be getting this type of experience,” says Makayla. “It was incredibly hands-on: sometimes scary — cool, exciting, heartwarming. You have to be compassionate.” 

One of Edmondson-Westside’s Career and Technical Education (CTE) pathways, the nursing assistant program offers students the chance to earn their state certification through a rigorous curriculum as well as 40 hours of mandated clinical training.  Currently there are 45 students in the program. Since 2011, 98% of the schools’ students have passed the certification exam.

In past years, students trained at St. Elizabeth Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, but pandemic restrictions made that impossible — it was simply too risky for that patient population. So UMMC stepped up to offer students an incredible opportunity: the chance to complete their hours in a leading teaching hospital. Students were required to be fully vaccinated, wear N95 masks while in the facility, and be closely screened and supervised.

“This pandemic has created an all-hands-on-deck situation,” says Tanya Ross, Clinical Practice Coordinator at UMMC. “With college nursing students between semesters, we had the space and appreciated the support of the dedicated students from Edmondson-Westside. And the nursing staff love to see students who are considered to be the future of nursing and help them on their journey.” 

Edmondson-Westside students who earn their nursing assistant certification are able to secure jobs in healthcare settings right away — supporting doctors and nurses and helping patients with daily living activities. Most have their sights set on nursing careers or other roles in the medical field. 

“So many jobs in healthcare require this nursing assistant certification,” says Tara Williams, Edmondson-Westside’s CTE Department Lead, herself a nursing administrator for Medstar Health. “Students at a four-year university’s nursing program are typically earning the certification in the first semester of their junior year. Our high school seniors are two years ahead of the game. Once you’re licensed, you can get your foot in the door at most of the big hospitals. And in many situations, those employers will help pay for you to further your education in the healthcare field. “

In the fall, Makayla Cotto will be off to Coppin State where she plans to pursue a career as an obstetrician, building on her experience at UMMC and in the nursing assistant program. “I was nervous at first,” says Makayla. “Having Ms. Williams there with us gave me confidence. She knew I could do it. I knew I could do it. It’s what we’ve trained for.” 


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