CNA Students Start Their Medical Career Journey Tuition-Free


Payton Hollar and Mariah Hood are the first two certified practical nurses to graduate tuition-free through WCCC’s new apprenticeship program. Funded by a $2 million grant from the United States Department of Labor, WCCC has partnered with the Western Colorado Area Health Education Center (WCAHEC) and 51 health facilities in Grand Valley, Delta and Montrose to expand the local health personnel and remove the barrier of school fees for those who have the heart to help others.

This opportunity is open to anyone over the age of 17 who is not currently enrolled in high school and who can engage in a one-year paid apprenticeship in home health, assisted living, care long-term, in rehabilitation or in hospice.

“If students can’t afford to go to college, they now have a way to train and become a certified nursing assistant/practical nurse, which is a great foundation for becoming a nurse or any other professional of health. It’s a fantastic first step into the world of patient care and the places it can take are endless,” said WCCC Allied Health Program Coordinator Kris Mathwig.

“The program is super important for the Grand Vallée, especially right now, because there is a shortage of CNAs in the workforce. Some facilities even offer bonuses of $5,000 to $10,000,” Mathwig said.

Alleviating these shortages means improving the quality of patient care in understaffed facilities, while simultaneously improving working conditions for overstretched nurses and nursing assistants. Health care aides are in high demand in the United States, for permanent, travel and home care assignments. Mathwig often gets phone calls from families looking to hire graduates for private home care opportunities, many of whom require assistance with travel and vacations.

Both Hollar and Hood have big medical career dreams and are on the right track. They are grateful to be able to fully concentrate on their studies and learning duties, rather than worrying about how to pay tuition. Without this grant, both would have needed student loans.

Hollar has always been fascinated by the brain and neurology. After her apprenticeship at St. Mary’s Hospital, she plans to get her medical degree. “As far as I can remember, I wanted to do medicine. I’ve always loved science and puzzles,” Hollar said. “I want to diagnose people – so learning what their symptoms are and determining the best plan of care for each patient is something I’m passionate about. I want to be part of the team that gives people the best care so they can have the best possible quality of life.

Hood is also an apprentice at St. Mary’s and plans to earn her LPN and BSN later, specializing in labor and delivery. “I was keen to enroll in this program because it’s a great stepping stone to my future goals,” Hood said. “It was such a blessing to be offered the opportunity to not only have the tuition paid, but also to be able to reference the experience on my CV. I believe that starting at the bottom and working your way up teaches you enjoy people in other roles with whom you will work in the future.

Students begin with classes, clinics, and take the CNA exam. Once students pass the exam, they begin their 12-month paid apprenticeship. During this time, they take monthly skills tests, complete an additional 40 hours of training, and receive a pay raise. Then, students receive two certificates from the US Department of Labor, one for completing the 40 hours of training and 40 hours of experience, and one for completing the one-year healthcare apprenticeship.

This fall, 5 different sessions are offered for the courses, ranging from 4 to 8 weeks. For more details, visit the WCCC Paramedic Programs website. To register, contact Kris Mathwig. [email protected]


Written by Hannah Odneal


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