You’ve probably heard of a win-win situation.

But how about a win-win-win-win-win situation?

That’s one way to describe St. Charles Health System’s CNA Trainee program, which provides a path to a career in patient care for caregivers in non-medical positions such as food services and housekeeping, as well as people outside the organization looking to get into health care.

CNA stands for certified nursing assistant, a position that performs important patient-centered tasks in collaboration with nurses and physicians. Recruiting and retaining CNAs has historically been a challenge for St. Charles, which is why the health system created the CNA Trainee program. Here’s why it’s a win-win-win-win-win:

  • Participants get paid a full-time wage while taking the course
  • St. Charles also pays the course tuition
  • Participants get wide-ranging, hands-on experience in various departments across the health system
  • People who complete the course are guaranteed a job with the health system
  • St. Charles fills an important CNA position with an educated, experienced person who already knows the health system’s policies, processes and culture

“We love this program because it really gives us the opportunity to develop people and it's a pipeline to bolster our workforce,” said Rebecca Berry, vice president of Human Resources for St. Charles. “It provides an opportunity for growth, development and career advancement for our caregivers, and it strengthens our organization by helping to attract and retain proven employees, which ultimately is good for our patients.”

Molly Barash loves the CNA Trainee program, too. She moved to Central Oregon five years ago, and spent four years working at a local restaurant that treated her “very well,” she said. Still, she longed to find a path to a career in health care, inspired by her experience caring for her father as he battled cancer.

“I found great value in taking care of my dad and it made me want to pursue a career in nursing,” said Barash, 31. “I don’t think there are many more important jobs than caretaking for people who are in really vulnerable states. I like to be part of the process of healing.”

Financially, though, Barash couldn’t quit her job and focus on the education she needed to work in health care. So when her advisor at Central Oregon Community College told her about St. Charles’ CNA Trainee program, she pounced on the opportunity.

“I couldn’t have done it without that (program),” said Barash, who now works in the Progressive Care Unit at St. Charles Bend. “It was my ticket to being able to move forward.”

That’s a sentiment echoed by Penelope Story, 64, who was working at an ophthalmology practice in Bend when her husband suffered a series of strokes that put him in the hospital for an extended period of time, she said. While he was there, Story watched the CNAs who cared for him and realized she would benefit both professionally and personally if she could make the move into frontline patient care.

“I thought, ‘I can do that, and it would also help me learn how to better take care of him at home,’” she said. “I saw room for growth and room for salary advancement, so it was very appealing.”

Story learned about the CNA Trainee program through an online job site, applied, was accepted and joined St. Charles in October of 2020. She still marvels at the opportunity.

“You’re employed by the health system, so you’re getting paid to go to school, and your school is paid for as well. And then you’re guaranteed a position as well when you graduate,” she said. “It’s incredible for me to think about how that really happened.”

As a bonus, Story feels she is a much better caretaker for her husband. And she’s happy working on the Medical unit at St. Charles Bend.

“I feel at home on that floor. I really and truly do,” she said. “It’s busy, don’t get me wrong. But it’s a joy to work there. I feel blessed to be a part of that staff.”

The CNA Trainee program has been so productive, St. Charles is starting a similar program for medical assistants, Berry said.

“We need more MAs to help support our physicians as they care for our patients,” she said. “It’s our hope that this new MA Trainee program will start to bring in a steady flow of excellent medical assistants to St. Charles.”

The first MA Trainee cohort starts at the end of March, and Laura Terrazas is excited to be a part of it. Currently, she is a housekeeper at St. Charles Madras, but she got a taste of patient care when she worked at a pediatrician’s office in Alabama years ago.

“I didn’t have my license or anything, but the pediatrician there was cross-training me (to work with patients) and I just fell in love with it,” she said. “The more interaction I had with the patients, the more I could feel that this was something I wanted to do.”

Terrazas, 44, intended to start her schooling in Alabama, but a move to Oregon stalled that plan. With a busy life (including kids), she had trouble finding the time to pursue the education she needed to move into patient care. But then, St. Charles announced its MA program.

“I thought, ‘That’s my door right there,’” Terrazas said. “I decided I would apply and see what happens, and I got in. I’m just so excited to see what comes next.”

At St. Charles, we believe our strength is in our people. If you’d like to work here, please visit our Careers site.

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