Union County High School students are getting a head start on their career before they even graduate from high school.
A health occupation certification class allows a student to get his or her certified nursing assistant license — CNA — before graduation.
In their freshman year, students decide if they want to pursue the health track and start taking classes toward a CNA license.
The 2007-2008 school year was the first year the health occupation program was implemented in the school, said Mike Ripplinger, principal at Union County High.
To complete the program and take the test students must earn 40 clinical hours, 30 of which need to be in a long-term care facility, said Lori Howard, health occupation teacher at Union County High.
Howard’s students do clinical hours at Winsor Manor in Starke and Lake Butler Hospital.
The program is “a good springboard to get into the nursing program,” Ripplinger said.
Eventually, 18-year-old Jessica Loznicka wants to be a registered nurse and work in the trauma unit at a hospital.
“I’ve always wanted to be a registered nurse, and I thought it (the class) would give me good experience and a good background working toward that,” Loznicka said.
Classes usually consist of a classroom lesson and practicing in the lab.
If students attend all of their scheduled clinical hours and don’t need makeup days the high school will pay all of their test fees. If the students do not attend all the clinical days, the school will pay for half of the testing fee and background screening fees, Howard said.
“The CNA test includes 60 written questions followed by a clinical skills test that includes three randomly assigned skills,” she said.
Last school year, all of Howard’s students passed the test. The year prior she had one student out of 15 who didn’t pass the first time but then retook the exam.
Students who have passed the CNA test can work in a nursing home or any assisted living facility, Howard said.
In ninth grade, students take medical classes like basic skills and the history of the medical field. In 10th and 11th grades, students take anatomy classes.
In the later part of their 11th grade year, students begin working on CNA skills, then in 12th grade they take the CNA skills class and go to a nursing home to gain experience.
Union County High is a certified testing location, which means students can take the CNA test in a classroom they are familiar with.
Howard said the familiar location is a great advantage for students because they will feel more comfortable and know where everything is during the test.
“I want to enter the medical field,” senior Nicole Shaw said. “I want to go into pediatrics. I like working around kids, and I like working in the medical field with people, so I plan on finishing the program and getting my CNA and using it as I go through medical school and throughout college.”