Earlene headshot

Former nurse aide is moving up the career ladder fast through an intensive apprenticeship program.

When Earlene Guel graduated from North Valley School for Young Adults in Thornton in 2016, she had a few career options in mind. But she didn’t want to waste time or money on higher education until she knew which one might fit her best.

“I worked as a teacher assistant for a children’s program a recreation center and in retail for a while, but realized that neither of those were passions,” says Earlene, who grew up in the Denver area.

Health care was another interest, so she took a couple of classes at Front Range Community College to begin exploring options. In 2018, she ended up at Emily Griffith Technical College, where she earned a certificate in phlebotomy.

Pursuing the Certified Nurse Aide Path

During the phlebotomy program at Emily Griffith, Earlene did a clinical rotation— a series of supervised interactions with patients—at Saint Joseph Hospital in Denver. That sparked her interest in becoming a nurse aide. She earned the nurse assisting certificate, then started her career as a home health aide.

“I really enjoy the human aspect of health care,” Earlene says. “I enjoyed my job, but it had some difficult parts to it too—especially getting attached to patients who passed away.”

In 2022, she started researching health care programs at FRCC and other colleges to see if any caught her attention. “I knew there were programs where I could go to school and work at the same time. That’s how I found the sterile processing apprenticeship program at FRCC.”

A New Career in 20 Weeks

As someone who still wanted to make a difference in people’s lives, even if not caring for them at the bedside, Earlene liked the sound of the sterile processing technician job. “Cleaning and sterilizing surgical instruments and equipment is important and keeps patients safe and healthy,” she says.

“This seemed like a great opportunity to help patients in a different way. And the ability to develop skills while getting paid and earning a certificate at the same time sounded perfect.”

So, in August 2022, Earlene started the sterile processing apprenticeship at St. Anthony Hospital, a Centura Health facility. Earlene is one of three FRCC students currently completing the sterile processing apprenticeship there.

Just four months later, she will earn her sterile processing certificate at FRCC and be prepared to sit for the Certified Registered Central Service Technician exam through the International Association of Healthcare Central Service Material Management.

Hard Work, But Worth It

Earlene works five days a week at St. Anthony. On Sundays, she has a full day of class and lab with FRCC instructors. (Class is held at Centura’s Avista Adventist Hospital in Louisville).

“I was nervous when I first started, but the way the program is structured gets students comfortable on the job quickly,” she says. “It’s hard work and a very busy schedule, but I’ve learned to manage my time and stay on task.”

Real-World Work Meets Intensive Education

Apprenticeships are nationally recognized training programs that combine working with learning—on the job and in the classroom. Unlike internships or other training programs, students earn a wage while building skills, and that hands-on experience is augmented with relevant instruction from FRCC instructors (both in the classroom and in labs).

The sterile processing apprenticeship is one of several health care-focused apprenticeships offered by FRCC in partnership with organizations around Colorado’s Front Range. Others include pharmacy technician and medical assistant.

FRCC also offers apprenticeship opportunities in manufacturing and tree care, and is currently working to build new apprenticeship programs in information technology and cybersecurity.

The Immediate Future

Recently, she was able to observe a hip surgery at the hospital to learn how different surgical tools are used by surgeons. “It was just amazing,” she says.

When Earlene finishes the sterile processing program in January 2023, she will start as a full-time technician at a Centura Health hospital or facility—either St. Anthony or elsewhere.

“Not only did I get to see how the instruments we clean and prepare are used, I got to see how surgical technicians work. I actually always said as a kid that I was going to become a surgeon one day, so that was really special to me.”

Thinking Farther Ahead

Now Earlene is thinking long term about other possible paths. She’s eager to gain experience as a sterile processing technician, but working in the surgical setting is in the back of her mind.

“I could see myself becoming a surgical technician or even a surgeon,” Earlene says, admitting that she’s looked up FRCC’s Associate of Applied Science degree in surgical technology program and would consider returning to school in a couple of years.

“I am someone who takes things one step at a time. So, I won’t rush anything, but it is on my mind.”

Her Happy Place

Earlene’s experience at FRCC has been a positive one that makes further college education sound exciting, not scary.

“I love this program and the apprenticeship offering that allowed me to get an all-in-one education and new career on a fast track,” she says.

“I’m in a happy place right now.”

National Apprenticeship Week is Nov. 14-20, 2022! NAW is a nationwide celebration where industry, labor, equity, workforce, education, and government leaders host events to showcase the successes and value of Registered Apprenticeship for re-building our economy, advancing racial and gender equity, and supporting underserved communities. NAW is an opportunity to highlight how Registered Apprenticeship, a proven and industry-driven training model, provides a critical talent pipeline that can help to address some of our nation’s pressing workforce challenges such as rebuilding our country’s infrastructure, addressing critical supply chain demands, supporting a clean energy workforce, modernizing our cybersecurity response, and responding to care economy issues.

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