Eight students get CNA certified amidst nurse shortage


Photo courtesy of HHS STEM Academy

Eight seniors receive their Certified Nursing Assistant certificates.

Clare Kirwan, Head Editor-in-Chief

The morning of Dec. 16, 2021 eight seniors received their Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) certification. One of whom is senior Maria Torres Moreno.

“I decided to be part of the CNA program because I knew I was going to do something related to healthcare and I wanted to give it a try and see how it [worked] for me. I ended up loving it. I also thought it would be an awesome experience and job to have as I go to school,” Torres Moreno said.

The nursing program is run through a partnership between the Harrisonburg High School STEM Academy and the Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community (VMRC). STEM Medical Terminology teacher Tricia Cummings serves as the Nurse Aide Instructor.

“My role is to instruct the students in the class that takes place at VMRC. For the first and second blocks for one semester. I’m at VMRC for half the day and then I come [to HHS]. We have a classroom, we have a skills lab, and then when we do clinicals, [where] they work with the residents,” Cummings said.

Clinicals serve as a vital part of the program and help to prepare students for the CNA test. Clinicals allow the students to assist VMRC residents in their daily activities.

“They’re getting people out of bed, and helping them to the bathroom and helping them get dressed. Some residents or patients need help with eating. They’ll take vital signs, blood pressure, and temperature. They’ll change beds, check vital signs and then report anything that looks different or not right,” Cummings said.

Torres Moreno finds the clinical experience to be a rewarding part of the job.

“We got to learn about the patient’s needs, mental health, activities of daily living, communication skills and more. In my job, [I make] sure that all of my patients are ready for the day, help them with their personal care, make them comfortable and make sure all their needs are met,” Torres Moreno said.

Cummings first found her inspiration to become a nurse after her daughter was involved in a car crash.

“I was a math teacher for 21 years. Then in 2012, my daughter was in a car accident. We spent two and a half weeks at UVA while she was getting better, and I had just never appreciated the difference that a nurse could make, you know, for families and patients. I just kind of had this epiphany and said, ‘I want to be a nurse,’” Cummings said. “In 2013, I started working on prerequisites and went to nursing school, but the last two years I just really missed being with high school students and teaching. Then I learned about the STEM healthcare pathway, and the nurse aide program that they were going to start. I decided to apply for that job instead.”

While Cummings’ inspiration comes from her daughter, Torres Moreno’s comes from Cummings herself.

“My inspiration was Mrs. Cummings. I had her for medical terminology last year and she talked about [the program] in class. She is so inspiring and such a good nurse that I think that is what made me take the class,” Torres Moreno said. “ The special thing about the program was how much time we spent with each other as a group and how we worked in a team all the time, supporting and learning from each other.”

The program itself has been described as a welcoming and collaborative environment, but the test to get certified is intense.

“The Virginia Board of Nursing requires 120 hours of education. It’s about to be up to 140. So we have to have ‘X’ number of hours in the classroom ‘X’ number of hours in the skills lab, and then at least 40 hours directly with residents or patients,” Cummings said. “The test itself is pretty intense. [The students] have a two hour block of time for a written component. There’s 70 multiple choice questions. Then the next part is the skills. They have to do a hand washing skill, they have to do some sort of measurement skill, whether it be weight, blood pressure, heart rate, respiration or measuring. Then they have three other skills that they have to do and they have to perform them to mastery in front of one evaluator.”

All eight students in the program passed, including Torres Moreno.

“The process to get certified was a little scary, but once we were at the testing site we all realized we were over prepared, we had the best teacher and I think all of us passing really demonstrates that,” Torres Moreno said. “[After I passed the test], I felt very accomplished and happy that we would all celebrate together.”

Five of those who passed already have CNA jobs set up, with the other three still deciding. Torres Moreno plans to go into a separate field of healthcare.

“You would think [my plan] is to be a nurse, but that is not the case. I’m looking [to be] a Radiologist Technician or Medical Sonography. I think nurses are incredible, but I’m just not that interested in that part of healthcare,” Torres Moreno said.

Cummings is immensely proud of her students and is excited to guide even more students through the program.

“As a citizen, it just makes me so happy that we have more healthcare workers now because we need them. As a teacher it just makes me so proud of them, that they want to help others make a difference in this world,” Cummings said.