Young apprentices get hands-on training

October 12, 2021
a young woman in black scrubs checks on a patient monitoring machine in a hospital hallway
Apprentice Shea Held works regular shifts on a Digestive Disease Center floor, where she can get a true hospital experience, when not taking classes at Trident Technical College. Photos by Sarah Pack

Nine of the newest staff members learning the ropes at MUSC Health are either still in high school or have just graduated.

They’re part of a youth apprenticeship program facilitated by Trident Technical College that combines academics with paid hands-on learning, and director of nursing excellence Kara Simpson, DNP, R.N., has high hopes for their futures.

“Our goal is to make sure these apprentices have such a wonderful experience that when they graduate high school, they stay with us as patient care techs while in college, and once they graduate nursing school, they stay at MUSC as R.N.s,” she said. “It's really a pipeline of talent for us and building that workforce of the future.”

The Charleston Regional Youth Apprentice program began in 2014 with just one pathway – industrial mechanics – and six employers. Today there are 18 pathways, ranging from culinary arts to cybersecurity, and more than 160 employer-partners.

The CNA/pre-nursing pathway, added in 2017, is one of the most competitive, said Ellen Kaufman, Trident Tech youth apprenticeship coordinator. Students commit to two years of apprenticeship. During this time, they’ll complete both the certified nursing assistant (CNA) and patient care technician (PCT) coursework at Trident Tech as well as required academic courses.

“It's a really great program, especially if you know you want to go into nursing. It gets you experience really early on, right off the bat."

Shea Held

Back at the beginning of the year, Simpson decided how many apprentices the hospital could take on and sent that information to Trident Tech. At the same time, at West Ashley High School, senior Shea Held was working with her guidance counselor to gather materials for her application to the program.

Held said she’s always wanted to go into nursing, and she was eager for the experience that the apprenticeship program would provide.

“It's a really great program, especially if you know you want to go into nursing,” she said. “It gets you experience really early on, right off the bat, and you learn so much more in the hospital than you do in the PCT classes and the courses.”

two young women in black scrubs listen to a third woman as she looks over a computer 
Patient care technician Jaime Edwards, left, goes over a patient’s vitals at the beginning of her shift with Shea Held, middle, and Erin Leonard, an MUSC patient care technician at the end of her shift at Ashley River Tower.

Once Held’s application was selected for the next round, she went in for an interview at Trident Tech. The Trident Tech staff then sent all the videotaped student interviews to the participating hospitals in town.

At MUSC Health, Simpson, program coordinator Robin Smith and unit nursing managers scrutinized the video interviews and identified the students they wanted to hire. Their counterparts at other local hospitals were doing the same. The determination of which student ends up at which hospital comes down to a draft day, when the hospitals take turns selecting the students they want as apprentices.

Simpson is happy with how this year turned out.

“We got a really strong crew,” she said.

The students were assigned to various units, where they’ll remain for their two years. They are paid employees, but their managers schedule them around their school schedules. For Held, that means she currently works a 3:30-11 p.m. shift on Mondays and Fridays.

She’s assigned to a Digestive Disease Center floor in Ashley River Tower. Under the supervision of an experienced PCT, she’s taken a patient’s vital signs, helped people get up, prepared rooms, changed linens and emptied catheter and ostomy bags.

“She’s awesome,” said her preceptor, or trainer, Jaime Edwards. “She’s ambitious. She’s a good kid.”

In all of the pathways, the apprentices must put in 2,000 hours of work and have a core list of tasks they must complete to qualify for certification from the U.S. Department of Labor.

Held is eager to put her new classroom skills to work in the hospital. She’s also finding that there are some things that class can’t really prepare you for.

“They don’t prepare you for how patients are going to treat you. That is a big thing,” she said. “You don’t really come in contact with a lot of mean people, but there are some people who are having a rough day, and they don’t really prepare you for that. It’s just something you learn.”

Luckily, with her background working in the local food and beverage industry, Held has plenty of experience soothing unhappy customers.

“Most of them are scared,” she said. “They just want to know what’s going on.”

“I can see this program expanding. My goal would be to have an apprentice in every unit.”

Kara Simpson, DNP, R.N.
director of nursing excellence

Simpson said that type of on-the-ground training is helpful for young people deciding on a career.

“It’s a good eye-opener for the apprentices to get a feel for, ‘Do I really want to go to college for this when I get done with high school?” she said.

And it’s a great program for the hospital as it seeks to develop more pipelines into health care professions.

“I can see this program expanding,” Simpson said. “My goal would be to have an apprentice in every unit.”