Jill Mancuso has found hand lotion a valuable teaching tool at the Warwick Area Career and Technical Center Health Occupations Program.
A registered nurse for the past 28 years and instructor for the program for the past seven years, Mancuso said teaching students “soft skills” is one of the most challenging aspects of her job. Under the program, students have 80 hours of classroom work and 40 hours of practical work, which is done at the West View Nursing Home in West Warwick.
Those first couple of visits to the nursing home – during which students, under Mancuso’s watchful eye, assume care of the elderly and disabled – can be the most difficult. Students as young as 15 are put into situations where they changing clothes, helping feed and move elders who could be the age of their grandparents and even great grandparents. Mancuso said she has had anxious students clam up, fearing they might hurt these frail patients or simply afraid to touch them.
That’s where the hand lotion comes in.
As a means of introducing students to patients, Mancuso has students offer patients a hand massage. The lotion helps bridge apprehensions and enables that initial contact between student and patient. It’s a step in building confidence.
“One success keeps building on another success,” she said.
This year, all seven juniors in the program passed the national certified nurse assistant examination and received their Rhode Island CNA license.
Mancuso said she has had students who have an individualized education program [IEP] go on to gain a CNA license. These cases have required teaching with hands-on instruction with less dependency on textbooks.
A 100-percent passage rate on the license is an achievement that William McCaffrey, center director, touts. Passage rates in similar programs across the state are as low as 50 percent, with 80 percent being more of a norm for those taking the exam for a first time. The two-hour exam has written and practical components. It’s the practical portion of the test where those “soft skills” come into play.
McCaffrey said School Committee member David Testa is working with him to expand the program to include an emergency medical technician EMT component. Some high school career programs now offer EMT training that they have found drives male enrollment in the Health Occupations Program.
With an aging population, Mancuso doesn’t doubt there will be a job waiting for those who complete the program. That’s already happening with undergraduates as well as graduates in jobs at nursing homes and assisted living facilities across the region.