May 2, 2010
These five careers support nurses and require less than two years of training
Special to NWjobs
Surgical technician Shane Edwards helps Paul Friedrich get comfortable at Valley Medical Center. (Linda Hughes)
Nurses get their own day (May 6), week (May 6-12) and year (2010 is the International Year of the Nurse). They are some of the most-recognized professionals in health care. But they routinely rely on unsung heroes for help.
“Nursing used to be a single person taking care of a specific number of patients,” says Jennifer Graves, a nurse executive at Swedish Hospital. “Now, nurses work as a team, paired with many other medical professionals who support RNs and allow them to work at their highest skill level.”
Many of the support professions can lead to rewarding careers after a short amount of training. Here are five careers that can launch you into medicine after less than two years of education at community and vocational colleges.
CERTIFIED NURSING ASSISTANT
New positions over next seven years: 1,145
Average wage per hour: $14
Training time: Two to six months
Certified nursing assistants (CNAs) are like foot soldiers: They’re the first ones in and the last ones out in the battle to help patients.
“It’s a challenging job with a heavy workload, so it has to be in your heart to care for people, making them feel better when they are at their worst,” says Jackquline Lee, a CNA at Valley Medical Center. “You can’t be squeamish or worried about getting your hands dirty, and you have to be compassionate and non-judgmental toward people from all walks of life.”
CNAs check vital signs, bathe patients, empty catheters, assist with physical and occupational therapy, move bed-bound patients, help patients walk after surgery and assist in feeding and wound care. They can train to draw blood and check blood-sugar levels.
“It’s a challenge to keep a positive outlook when you have a whole (hospital) floor full of patients to take care of, and you’re not sure you can make it back to that room or that patient during your shift,” says Lee. “I’ve always loved caring for people, and I like working as a team with the nurses and doctors to make sure patients get quality care.”
New positions over next seven years: 60-80
Average pay per hour: $23
Training time: Nine months to 1.5 years (CNA experience is a prerequisite)
Surgical technicians are the right-hand people for doctors and nurses, especially during surgery.
“I have to make sure the proper surgical instruments are set up before each procedure, make sure they remain sterile and don’t become contaminated, and then ensure that they’re all there after we’re done,” says Steven Reichart, a surgical tech at Swedish Hospital’s Ballard campus.
“You have to have expert knowledge of anatomy and physiology, so if the surgeon is working on a femur fracture, you know where the femur is.”
Surgical trays can hold up to 25 pounds of instruments, and techs are on their feet for up to 12 hours in the operating room, so physical strength is a must. Surgical techs also often work in emergency rooms, helping to create splints for broken bones and aiding doctors doing stitches, intubations, IVs and wound care.
“I’m the one who is setting up the room with supplies beforehand and the one cleaning it up afterward,” says Shane Edwards, a medical/surgical tech at Valley Medical Center.
Edwards had a degree in athletic training and an emergency medical technician (EMT) license before receiving two months of training at Valley.
“I love being able to help people on their worst day,” he says. “It’s gratifying to see them get better. But you have to have a strong stomach, because we see a lot of trauma and (have to) know where everything is, from monitors to supplies, so you can get it for the doctors and nurses at a moment’s notice.”
New positions over next seven years: 913
Average pay per hour: $17
Training time: 11-13 months
Medical assistants (MAs) and certified medical assistants work mostly in doctors’ offices or clinic settings, often taking the place of licensed practical nurses.
MAs do blood draws, perform EKGs, connect patients to monitors and schedule procedures and triage patients. They also give injections, assist doctors with stitching wounds, take vital signs and provide referrals to other health providers.
“Working with patients who are angry because they’ve been waiting to see the doctor or waiting for medications for a long time is a challenge, because they’re frustrated and they take it out on you,” says Jenelyn Directo-Nguyen, a medical assistant at Swedish Heart and Vascular Clinic. “But you can’t take that frustration too seriously. You have to be understanding and patient.
“You also can’t be afraid of blood or vomit, because you’re the one who has to clean it up,” she says. “You have to be strong enough to help the elderly onto wheelchairs or exam tables, and you have to be able to multitask, because you’re always being pulled in a million directions at once — when the doctor needs you, you have to do a blood draw, answer the telephone and deal with a procedure all at once.”
Samantha Hughes, a certified medical assistant and the MA coordinator for Valley Medical’s urgent-care clinics, says the stresses are worth it. “I love assisting doctors, and I love the attention to detail that we have to have for everything you do in this job,” says Hughes.
HEALTH UNIT COORDINATOR/UNIT SECRETARY
New positions over next seven years: 1,266
Average pay per hour: $18
Training time: Six months to a year
Health unit coordinators (HUCs) and nurses team up on a daily basis. “We couldn’t get along without them,” says Allyson Lohrmann, an ER nurse at Valley Medical. “They control the phone lines, make calls for our physicians, take reports from inbound ambulances and deal with every form in the ER. They’re also excellent motivational people because they keep an upbeat attitude at the hub of the hospital floor.”
Claire Boe, a HUC at Swedish Hospital Ballard for 33 years, agrees: “We are at the center of the nurses’ station, which is like having your finger on the pulse of that floor, so you’ve got to know what is going on with everyone for eight hours. It’s a challenge to keep things running smoothly.”
HUCs answer phones, admit patients, let nurses know which patients are going to surgery or tests, and schedule appointments for patients. They need to know computers and medical software, medical terminology, billing procedures, lab-test procedures, interpersonal communication and how to compile medical chart information.
Medical secretary and medical administrative assistant training are the programs to study. There are also in-hospital training programs for CNAs who want to segue into the work.
Though it’s a fast-paced environment, Boe, who got her training on the job, says she wouldn’t work as anything else. “Scheduling is a challenge, as is keeping the patient’s family aware of what is going on, but I enjoy meeting new people and I love working with the best crew and team of medical professionals out there.”
LICENSED PRACTICAL NURSE
New positions over next seven years: 295
Average pay per hour: $22
Training time: 12-18 months (a state exam is required for a license)
“I consider my LPNs to be ‘regular’ nurses we are less of a support for RNs than colleagues,” says Michael Ryan, LPN and clinical coordinator for Valley Family Medicine Clinic in Renton. “We usually work in a clinical setting under the direct supervision of a doctor, and we do the next level of care that MAs aren’t allowed to do.”
Ryan says he became an LPN because it is a direct patient-support position, offering plenty of patient interaction. LPNs handle telephone triage, catheterization, starting IVs, clinical patient assessments, vaccinations, wound care and assisting with clinical surgical procedures such as vasectomies and mole removal.
“These positions are so vital because (of) the level of care that you’re able to deliver — having multiple perspectives on a patient’s situation makes a huge difference,” says Graves. “It allows nurses to provide better care.”
All demand and pay statistics for the Seattle-Bellevue-Tacoma area are from the Washington State Employment Security Department.
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