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Basic Nursing Assistant Training Program at Northwestern Medicine Provides a Pathway to Nursing Careers

Where you start your career at Northwestern Medicine is not necessarily where you’ll end up.

The Basic Nursing Assistant Training Program is empowering Northwestern Medicine employees in nonclinical roles such as Food Services, Environmental Services and Security to embark on the path to becoming a nurse by earning a certified nursing assistant (CNA) certification at no cost. External candidates can also apply, with a payment plan available.

Graduates of the program have access to many patient care technician (PCT) roles throughout the Northwestern Medicine health system.

PCTs are essential healthcare workers who support registered nurses in all aspects of patient care, including assisting patients with personal hygiene, mobility, taking vital signs, answering call buttons and more.

Becoming a PCT is a stepping stone to becoming a nurse, according to Tacora Love, RN, program director and nursing educator who helped found this program.

“What’s really great about this program is that once you get your CNA certification, it can help you become a patient care technician at Northwestern Medicine and even set you up for a nursing education in the long run. On top of that, most students don’t have to worry about the financial or time barriers that might come with programs like this outside of Northwestern Medicine,” says Love. “I’m really proud of the program we’ve built, and I truly believe it can be replicated at health systems across the country to help create a pipeline to nursing that will assist with the impending nursing shortage.” 

What Does the Basic Nursing Assistant Training Program Involve?

The 16-week training program sessions are held on Fridays at Northwestern Memorial Hospital with instruction in classroom, lab and clinical settings. The instruction team works with the students’ Northwestern Medicine managers to accommodate their schedules so they don’t miss a beat at work.

Upon program completion, students are eligible to take the Illinois Nurse Aide Competency Certification Exam. Once they pass the exam, they can get hired as a PCT and even go on to nursing school. Several local nursing programs require students to have a CNA as a prerequisite.  

The BNA Training Program is approved by the Illinois Department of Public Health and is part of the Northwestern Medicine internal training department, NM Academy, and Northwestern Medicine Clinical Schools and Programs, which are available to internal and external candidates. 

Success Stories From Our February Graduates

For employees like Kiana Smith, the BNA Training Program has been life-changing. Two years ago, she started at Northwestern Memorial Hospital working at Panera Bread and then took a job as a security guard in the Emergency Department. Being around patients made Smith realize she wanted to work on the clinical side, so she completed the BNA Training Program. Smith passed the CNA exam and now works as a PCT on a general medicine floor at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

“I have a passion for caring for people, and my next step is nursing school,” says Smith. “I’ve always had plenty of jobs, but never a career. I’m here today thanks to hard work, determination and this amazing program through Northwestern Medicine. My career is just getting started, and I’m excited for the future.”

Austin Garcia started at Northwestern Medicine as a health unit coordinator in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital. Garcia is now working on this same floor, but as a PCT. At graduation, Garcia told his classmates, “It’s not about the speed, it’s about the direction. I knew this program was the catalyst to the career I deserved.”

Issac Woodson worked in Environmental Services at Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital, but his goal was to eventually work in a clinical position. Woodson wanted to provide a better life for his wife and their new baby, so he completed the BNA Training Program. Woodson recently started working as a PCT at Lake Forest Hospital.

Kaiya Person is now on the way to nursing school, thanks to the BNA Training Program. Person wanted to become a nurse but wasn’t sure how to pay for it, so she took a job as a patient service representative at a Northwestern Medicine Immediate Care Center. Following the BNA Training Program, Person accepted a job as a PCT with Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. She is taking her final prerequisites for nursing school, which she plans to enroll in for the fall semester.

“To my knowledge, there isn’t another CNA program in Chicago that is free for employees and only meets one day per week,” says Person. “While the class itself can be challenging, enrolling in the program allowed me to continue my education, gain knowledge and build skills in a clinical role while making lasting connections across the Northwestern Medicine system.”

For more information or to register for the program, visit