Katie Williams stood at the podium for St. Louis Community College and St. Luke’s Hospital’s Patient Care Technician (PCT) graduation ceremony, her eyes welling up with joy and gratitude.
“This program kind of fell into my lap. I was looking for a new job,” Williams said. “I always wanted to be in the health field, but never knew how or what to do.”
A full-time worker and single mom to a 5-year-old son, Williams determined her desire to become a nurse while witnessing her father’s illness.
“We lost him 14 years ago to cancer,” she recounted. Nine years later, a return to the hospital corridors as her son spent four months in the NICU reminded her of her personal goal. However, without completing high school, she anticipated the path would require a long, heavy lift.
Her launch into STLCC’s nine-week, non-credit PCT program accelerated that pathway, blending six weeks of classroom instruction and peer-based lab practice through STLCC and three weeks at St. Luke’s Hospital, where she studied with the hospital’s clinical educators and worked directly with patients.
Fellow PCT cohort alum Alyssa Williams enjoyed this experience-based model as well.
“I’m thankful to be actually working rather than just shadowing other techs,” she said. “I have gained so much knowledge and everything that I have seen in my life as far as a health career goes makes a lot more sense.”
Demand High for Skilled Workers
In health care, the reality is that providers seek workers at every skill level. This need rings especially true as demand for a growing workforce is driven by technological advances and an aging population. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects all health care-related occupations to increase by more than 19 percent nationally through 2024.
Even with increasing demand for workers, applicants sometimes struggle to get noticed.
“I’ve been trying to get my foot in the door,” said Katie Williams.
Fellow PCT graduate Hannah Holderman agreed. “I’ve been trying to become a PCT for a while. It’s so hard to get on if you’re not through nursing school or going through nursing school because they change the requirements all the time.”
A resounding theme from this PCT graduate cohort was that, in addition to providing important skills, STLCC’s PCT program helped gain the attention of employers.
Diane Hildwein, RN, BC, MA, St. Luke’s Hospital director of nursing clinical education, supports this benefit.
“We certainly want to continue our relationship in the clinical area with this cohort of graduates,” she said. “Just because they’ve graduated doesn’t mean our clinical time with them is over. We will continue to support them and track their progress through an apprenticeship for continued learning.”
Photographs of the graduating students immersed in peer-practice lab training scroll behind the group as, dressed in wine-colored medical scrubs, they await the moment a completion certificate will be placed in their hand and their next phase – apprenticeship-based employment – will begin. As part of the program with St. Luke’s Hospital, graduates have the opportunity to apply for a one-year apprenticeship that will further develop them through on-the-job learning, additional higher skills training, mentorship and wage progression.
“We’ll be working with them to make sure they’re continuing to grow, that they’re comfortable with the roles that they have,” said Hildwein. “They have a good strong foundation, and we can build on that now that we know them and know their strengths.”
Developing Transferable Skills
John Scott, a registered nurse clinical educator with St. Luke’s who helped guide students during their first week on the hospital’s campus, emphasized the benefit that this program delivers: a skilled patient care workforce that meets a growing need for support of patient well-being and healing. The PCT program connects a pipeline of students who offer skills that translate to the hospital’s mission of personalized care.
“Nursing teaches about collaboration, team-building, time management, being adaptive, multi-tasking, working with different personalities,” Scott explained.
These transferable skills are developed through the PCT program. “This is huge for the graduates who will continue into nursing school,” Scott said.
PCT graduate Kara Main recognizes this personal growth after going through the program. She’s known for some time that she wants to work in health care like her mother and sister. She was progressing toward a nursing program before personal setbacks caused her to press pause and re-evaluate her path toward that goal. The option of a concentrated program that applies classroom-developed knowledge through labs and clinicals appealed to her.
She discovered STLCC’s PCT program while researching online and submitted her application. Unexpectedly, she learned how vital grants and business partnerships are to these programs. The college was working behind the scenes to secure funding through state and federal funding sources and to connect with organizations seeking skilled workers.
“I got an email two months after I applied saying ‘we have the grant,’” she recalled.
“Grants and partnerships buttress this education opportunity,” said Laurie Hawkins, STLCC career coach and PCT program coordinator. “The PCT program is made possible through funding by several grant programs awarded to STLCC and, in those grants, we’re seeing a valuable shift toward apprenticeship-based training.”
The partnership with St. Luke’s Hospital, which is a Registered Apprenticeship Sponsor with the U.S. Department of Labor, rounds out the important holistic support.
“We’re applying the funding to train a workforce in practical, high-impact ways that support our regional businesses’ workforce needs and, most importantly, the needs of our community,” Hawkins said.
Continuing Their Education
Katie Williams, Main, Alyssa Williams and Holderman all expressed a desire to further their education and continue, in time, toward becoming RNs. On-the-job learning, particularly the importance of developing communication with doctors, nurses, co-workers and patients was highlighted by each of the graduates. All four have accepted offers with St. Luke’s and will continue through the hospital’s employee development program as PCT apprentices.
Hildwein and St. Luke’s administration are pleased with the outcomes of the student completion rate and advancement into the hospital’s one-year apprenticeship program.
“Personalized care of the patients is important here at St. Luke’s. Personalized development of employees is just as important,” Hildwein said.
From the student’s perspective, the experience was also a win.
“I definitely took a leap, and I landed on my feet,” Main said.
STLCC’s next Patient Care Technician cohort begins in October 2018, and applications are currently being accepted. To learn more and apply, visit stlcc.edu/PCT or call STLCC’s Healthcare Workforce Training Hotline at 314-539-5900.