Providence starts ‘earn while you learn’ program to fill empty CNA positions

View of Kodiak from the Near Island Bridge. (Photo by Mitch Borden/KMXT)

Certified nursing assistants are in short supply in Alaska. And the Providence Kodiak Island Medical Center is one of 17 hospitals in the state trying a new program to pay potential candidates as they train and hire new employees to fill the gap.

Providence has 15 open CNA positions between its primary facility and its elder-care house in Kodiak. In an effort to fill the positions, the medical center has partnered with Kodiak College to pay candidates while they complete coursework to get into the field.

Lori Mann is the chief nurse at the hospital. She said with the program, all applicants have to worry about is passing their classes.

“One of the biggest things that we were able to provide was that opportunity upfront to have everything paid for,” she said. “It’s tuition, it’s books, if they need uniforms, we’re covering all of that to try to get the stress off right from the beginning.”

Mann said the main goal is to get more people to explore careers in healthcare overall.

“Let’s get rid of all those barriers for the students and let’s pay them for their time while they’re there so they don’t have to worry about getting a paycheck and go to school and do homework and probably care for children and all those things that are barriers,” she said.

Jamie Smith, the program manager for workforce development for Providence in Kodiak, said this is a perfect opportunity for folks looking to start a new career.

According to Providence spokesman Mike Canfield, Providence Valdez and Providence Seward are also recruiting for openings through the program, which is being administered by the Alaska Hospital & Healthcare Association.

Funding for the project comes from the State Training and Employment Program through Alaska’s Department of Labor and Workforce Development. Mann said part of the program is also to fill positions that were left open during the pandemic.

Across the nation, fewer people are going into health care,” she said. “The last couple years have been a little tough for health care workers.”

Mann says it’s been popular so far – 19 people applied for the program but the class can only work with 10 students at a time.

“It’s really exciting and rewarding to watch people jump right into healthcare careers in this way and to have those first clinical experiences and learn what it means to work and operate as part of a team in a healthcare setting,” Mann said.

The program isn’t meant to pigeon-hole applicants to becoming nurses though – Providence encourages them once they are certified to explore other fields within healthcare as well. Mann said the program could be a foot in the door to other jobs.  

“Some people want to go into pharmacy, be a pharmacy tech, or a surgical tech,” she said. “They don’t have to be an RN eventually. Once we have them here and we know what excites them and where their true passion is and we can help with that individual pathway.”

Applicants are asked to stay with Providence for one year after they complete the program. But after they fulfill that year, their certification is valid for nearly any hospital.

Questions can be directed to the Providence Kodiak Island Medical Center for more information about the program. A list of available positions in Alaska is available online.

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