LARAMIE, Wyo. — With a baby on the way, Desharia Uribe, then 17, put her hopes in the Nurses Aid Program at Whiting High.
"I wanted to be a nurse," she said. "And I knew this program would get my foot in the door."
She enrolled in the program at the start of her senior year in 2005. Upon graduation in 2006, she was ready to take the Certified Nursing Assistant Test, administered by The Wyoming State Board of Nursing. She worked for about a year, saving money to take the test, and passed it in 2007. The Spring Wind Assisted Living and Memory Care Community hired her for her first job as a CNA shortly thereafter. She was 19, and her career was just beginning.
"Had I been a typical student, without a baby to care for, I could have taken my boards even sooner," Uribe said.
Lorraine Saulino-Klein, a registered nurse and instructor of the course, which is also offered for Laramie High students, said about 40 juniors and seniors go through the program each year. They graduate with the knowledge and skill set to work in one of the fastest growing industries in the community: health care.
"This Nurses Aid program fills a tremendous niche," Saulino-Klein said. "I have students in every medical institution or organization in this town."
Since the program began eight years ago, about 98 percent of Saulino-Klein's students have passed the course and the CNA exam, she said.
Ursula Harrision, principal at Whiting, revived the program after it had been defunct for nearly a decade. She was looking for an instructor to teach it, and Saulino-Klein filled that void.
"It's a vocational program," Harrison said. "And I particularly looked for programs that people could use to get jobs in this town."
The course certifies students with the American Heart Association in CPR, AED and basic first aid. In the first nine-week period, students work with Saulino-Klein in the classroom, learning about the theories and tools used for the care of patients.
The second nine-week period is geared toward clinical experience. Students spend 40 hours at Ivinson Memorial Hospital and Laramie Care Center, working with patients and filling in journals, which they review periodically with Saulino-Klein. At the end of the semester-long course, students graduate with three college credits, awarded by Laramie County Community College.
Once they pass the CNA test, "they can go right out and get a job," Saulino-Klein said.
"And these are decent paying jobs, too."
Her students have spread into dozens of niches within the field of health care, from medics in the military to nurses in hospice or the surgical unit at the Laramie Premier Bone & Joint Center. Two of her students from the flagship class went on to become doctors.
Jamie Rhodine, a senior in this year's program, said she decided to enroll because CNA certification is a prerequisite for pre-medical school.
"My plan is to hopefully get a CNA job this summer in Laramie," she said.
This fall, Rhodine plans to enroll at the University of Wyoming to pursue a registered-nursing degree. After working for a few years as a nurse, she wants to go back to school for her doctorate.
"(The program) made me excited to see how large the field is and how many opportunities I have," Rhodine said.
Brenna Westhoff, also a senior in the program, is going into pre-medical school at the University of Kansas on scholarship in the fall.
She plans to go on to medical school and specialize in pediatric oncology and hematology. For her, the program's benefits stem not only from the experience, but from getting to see the medical practice from a nurse's point of view.
"I'm excited to have the clinical time under Ms. Saulino-Klein," she said. "It gives me experience on the opposite end of what I want to do, so I'm kind of getting the full spectrum of the medical field."
Uribe said she gained everything from Saulino-Klein's course. After landing her first CNA job with Spring Wind, she worked for four years in a home health agency. During those years, she cared for her first and second child and put herself through nursing school at Laramie County Community College.
This May, she graduates from LCCC with a registered-nursing degree.
The Nurses Aid program "gave me a responsible job to care for my child that I have," she said. "The whole school at Whiting was supportive over everything. They really do find ways to set you up to be successful for life after high school."
Uribe said Saulino-Klein will be the first person she invites to her graduation.
Information from: Laramie (Wyo.) Daily Boomerang, http://www.laramieboomerang.com