Chautauqua CNA pipeline program a win-win

Long-term care providers need skilled workers. High school students need to build job skills. IHCA member Chautauqua Guest Homes in Charles City has a new partnership to tackle both these needs.

The program is a part of a high school initiative titled “Iowa Big North.” Through Iowa Big North, the Charles City school district and local businesses work together to solve problems and build students’ skills. The Chautauqua team volunteered to join this program to enable certified nursing assistant (CNA) training for high-performing high school students looking at professional careers in health care. Selected high school students receive classroom and clinical instruction and then test to become certified as CNAs. Competency testing is completed at area community colleges.

Sue Ayers, administrator at Chautauqua, describes the program as a “win-win.”

The program is in its second year. During the first year, 21 students applied for the class and 12 students were selected for enrollment. All 12 successfully finished the course and testing, becoming certified through the state-approved program. “Anyone who completes the program gets an offer of employment from Chautauqua,” says Ayers. Currently seven of the 12 students from the first class are working at the facilities. All are still continuing their education.

How it works

High school guidance counselors assist in identifying students who have an interest in careers in health care such as nursing, therapy, physician assistant, etc. Many of these careers require CNA training as a pre-requisite. The school then pre-screens these students for the program by handling the application process and conducting interviews. Up to 12 students annually are selected to participate. Class times are flexible to fit the needs of the students and to allow them to continue participation in other school activities. The Charles City High School holds the Department of Inspections and Appeals (DIA) license for the program and Chautauqua provides the clinical site. A lab area has also been set up in a vacant classroom with equipment donated by the facilities.

Chautauqua covers the cost of the required background checks and tuberculosis (TB) testing. Kathy Czerwinski, RN, a Chautauqua nurse manager, has completed a “train the trainer” course, and she provides classroom and clinical instruction using a state-approved curriculum. This year, six students are enrolled in the program.


Offering a program like this provides many benefits to both students and facilities, says Ayers.

- Students gain schedule flexibility – High school students interested in CNA training and a career in health care are often motivated and busy students who also participate in extracurricular activities at the school, and find it difficult to fit traditional CNA training into their schedule. Offering this course at time that works best for the students’ schedules through the school has solved this issue. Most clinical and lab times occur early in the morning before other school activities begin.

- Facilities gain staffing during hard-to-cover hours – Facilities often have a hard time finding staff who want to work evenings or weekends. Employing high school students who have completed this program solves this problem – because those are the hours that work well with the students’ availability to work. At times, even having certified staff who can work from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. can have a major impact in getting residents ready for the day and assisting them with breakfast. Students will frequently pick up additional hours during school breaks and the summer - often the times that traditional staff requests time off.

- Students make more money and gain valuable skills – A CNA job offers students more money than they would otherwise receive working in fast food or retail, while also building skills that can translate into a long-term career. The program also gives the students a chance to build leadership skills. For example, two of the students who completed the Chautauqua program the first year as juniors volunteered to help provide clinical training to the new class of students, giving them a chance to demonstrate their leadership skills by helping other students.

- Facilities build a future workforce pipeline – Programs like this also help to light the spark for students to consider long-term care as a long-term career option. Down the road, those students will graduate and look for full-time employment. Ayers hopes to get future nurses out of the deal in the next four to five years. 
Ayers encourages other administrators to consider offering such a program. “I don’t know why anyone would not do it,” she says.

The program is also supported by Governor Kim Reynolds, as she referred to it during her workforce summit in Des Moines last spring. In addition, the facility celebrated its first class graduation at the facility with attendance by Rod Roberts, Patrice Fagan and Dawn Fisk from DIA.

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For other workforce related questions, contact Julie Adair at 800.422.3106.