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Nursing course gives hope in a tight market

The Red Cross office at 717 N. Main St. offers training for nursing assistants, CPR, First Aid, babysitting and CPR for professional rescuers/health care providers.

When Lori Kent learned her job in industry would be cut, she looked at her options and charted an entirely different course.

Kent works at the Johnson Controls plant in Hudson in the division that makes seats for Ford Ranger pickups.

With the Ford Motor Company Twin Cities Assembly Plant's anticipated closing, Kent expects to lose her forklift operator's job in December.

After surveying the job market, Kent signed up for a nursing assistant course through the American Red Cross Western Wisconsin Chapter.

She enrolled in the first class offered late last year at the chapter's new River Falls site.

"I really kind of looked at what was available and where jobs are," said Kent, who lives in Baldwin.

With a number of nursing homes and hospitals in the area, it seemed clear that there would be jobs open in the field when she needed one.

Besides, the Red Cross made the course flexible enough that she could fit it in while still working her other job and could hopefully have another fulltime job lined up when she needs it.

The Western Wisconsin Chapter has offered nursing assistant classes since 2008 but didn't open its River Falls office until last September and offered its first class there in November.

Since Kent's class ended, another class has begun, and another will start Monday, May 16, said Terry Roe, preparedness, health and safety director for the Western Wisconsin Chapter.

"I don't want to work in the (industrial) field anymore," said Kent. "I was looking more at what there are for jobs available."

She holds two associate degrees, one in word processing and one in administrative assistance, and she's a year and a half away from a bachelor's degree in production management.

But along with her desire to change career paths, Kent said she can't afford to spend three semesters finishing a degree in a field where she may not find work.

After 14 years with her current employer, she's making good money and expects her new field will pay much less, said Kent.

"I'm not going to find anything that's comparable," said Kent. "I don't think you could expect that in available jobs."

She hopes to get a part-time job in a hospital this summer and work herself into a fulltime job after her Johnson Controls job ends.

"The demand for nursing assistants always exists," said Roe. "There are always ads in the paper for nursing assistants."

That is due to a large number of jobs in the field and fairly high turnover rate, said Roe, who herself worked as a nursing assistant while she was in college.

In the three years the Western Wisconsin Chapter has offered the class, 300 to 400 students have taken it, said Roe. The chapter also offers the class in Menomonie, Altoona and Rice Lake.

The next River Falls class, offered 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, will begin May 16. The class has a student limit of 12, and there are still openings.

Roe said all the nursing assistant classes are taught by registered nurses with at least two years experience in long-term care. Instructors are also required to have taken "Train the Trainer" courses and the Red Cross orientation class. Roe said she also looks for nurses with teaching experience.

The 120-hour nursing assistant class includes both classroom and clinical hours. The classroom time, said Roe, includes practical instruction using nursing home beds, walkers and other equipment at the Red Cross office.

The $595 fee covers everything the student needs except scrubs, appropriate shoes and a watch with a minute hand, said Roe.

While many of those who register for the class plan to work as nursing assistants, many others hope to eventually quality for other health care jobs, said Roe. She said some schools require that students enrolling in programs such as nursing or radiology technician complete nursing assistant training first.

A survey done a couple of years ago shows graduates of the Western Wisconsin Chapter nursing assistant course have no trouble finding jobs, said Roe.

"The results were overwhelming," she said. "If (graduates) wanted to work, they found a job."

She said the size of the River Falls classes is also a plus.

"The one thing that's nice about the sites like River Falls or Menomonie is they're not real big facilities," said Roe. She said the smaller groups develop camaraderie and get more individual attention from the instructor.

The River Falls Red Cross facility at 717 N. Main St. also offers classes in CPR, First Aid, babysitting and CPR for professional rescuers/health care providers.

The phone number for the office is 715-425-5296. Information about all classes offered by the Western Wisconsin Chapter can be found at

Judy Wiff

Judy Wiff has been regional editor for RiverTown’s Wisconsin newspapers since 1996. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and sociology from UW-River Falls. She has worked as a reporter for several weekly newspapers in Wisconsin.

(715) 426-1049