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A Northwestern Medicine CNA Program Offers New Pathways to Clinical Roles

A new Northwestern Medicine education program is helping bridge gaps for employees interested in a career as a certified nursing assistant (CNA).

The Northwestern Medicine CNA Program is available at no cost for our workforce members. It is the first stand-alone CNA training program created, offered and taught by our health system and not affiliated with another school or program.

“This is the first program of its kind here at NM, and we really designed it for non-clinical employees,” says Sarah Buenaventura, director of Administration for NM Academy, who helps oversee clinical education across Northwestern Medicine. “It’s perfect for those who just started working within the health system in non-clinical areas and are really interested in caring for patients and healthcare careers, such as nursing.”

The program is 16 weeks long and classes take place every Friday.

Committed to Better Career Development Resources for Employees

Based at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in downtown Chicago, the program accommodates full- and part-time employees with instruction in classroom and clinical settings. There are classroom and clinical instruction settings. The instruction team works to accommodate student schedules so the program is doable for all, explains Tacora Love, program manager of the CNA Program.

Love, who also serves as the classroom instructor, helped create the curriculum. She says the program can introduce people to a variety of careers in health care. 

“What’s really great about the program is that once you get your certification, it can help you to become a patient care technician at Northwestern Medicine and even set you up for a nursing education in the long run,” she says. “On top of that, students already working at Northwestern Medicine don’t have to worry about the financial or time barriers that might come with external programs like this.”

Love adds that the team aims to provide mentorship and networking opportunities for program graduates.

Celebrating Achievements and Working Toward Future Opportunities

The inaugural class graduated in December 2022 and included five members from around the Northwestern Medicine system:

  • Edwin Ceballos, senior lab technician
  • Bryce Harper, lab technician
  • Mariana Hernandez, pharmacy technician specialist
  • LMark Mueller, patient transporter
  • Sarah Stryczek, patient access specialist

Stryczek, who plans to go into nursing, says she wholeheartedly recommends the program for those interested in pursuing nursing-related careers.

“This was the best class I’ve ever taken,” she says. “There were so many people who were so supportive of us as the students, and clinical staff members were always eager to share feedback and help people improve.”

In late January 2023, the CNA program kicked off its second cohort. Love, Buenaventura and their teams — eager to optimize the program and to continue its success — are currently planning for the third cohort.

“The program really has been transformational,” says Love. “It has removed barriers, fostered hope, instilled courage and provided a direct path for students to pursue their goals.”