Under the watchful gaze of students who came before them — captured in photo collages displayed on the walls of a classroom — seniors in the Academy of Health Professions (AHP) at North Point High School have been studying a while. On Friday, April 28, the 15 seniors in Jill Bodamer’s and Rita Koenig’s classes went one by one into a closed lab to showcase and test their skills in hopes of earning a Certified Nursing Assistant license from the Maryland Board of Nursing.

A three-judge panel would determine if the students would earn their CNA license, one of the first steps to working in healthcare. Being a CNA can prepare for a nursing or healthcare career and includes duties such as gathering medical supplies, answering patient calls, documenting information, taking care of wounds, and other tasks.

One by one, the students emerged from the lab to the cheers and hugs of their waiting classmates, successful in earning the license. The judges were familiar with the celebratory sounds. They were familiar with the nervousness seen on the faces of the seniors. A few years back, that had been them.

The road to licensure

Earning the CNA license caps off a high school career spent learning how to help others. The Academy of Health Professions introduces students to professions in healthcare. Many in the AHP program were introduced or intrigued by the medical field long before high school.

“I learned from my mom, growing up, watching her,” Nyjaé Harley said. Harley’s mother, Shikea Duckett, is a nurse who inspired her daughter to join the healthcare profession. “I want to be a travel nurse. I don’t like staying in one place too long,” Harley said, adding that she will attend the University of Delaware in the fall to continue her studies.

Kaylin Urrego-Gallo had a similar personal experience that helped her decide on a career path early in life. A family member of Urrego-Gallo needed medical intervention, and the help her family received benefited her family member and the whole family, she said. “It helped our household immensely,” Urrego-Gallo said. Witnessing such dedication to the health and development of her family member from professionals prompted Urrego-Gallo to plan on studying kinesiology to become an occupational therapist. She’ll rack up college credits at the College of Southern Maryland before transferring to a four-year university. While studying in the Academy of Health Professions program, Urrego-Gallo learned that the medical field is vast, with a common goal shared among those in the career field. “I realize how diverse the medical field is, and there are so many options to choose from,” she said. “But they can all have a great effect on everyone.”

Students in the AHP — like many Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs — build strong relationships among their peers and with their instructors. Having similar interests and goals foster a sort of All for One mentality. “We’re a family,” said senior Anujin Nyamgaltaa, who earned a “full-ride” scholarship to New York University, where she plans to major in biology on the school’s premedical track.

Back to the lab

Lotanna Okoye was the last senior to take the clinical CNA exam Friday. When he stepped out of the lab and gave a slight nod, he was met with hugs, high fives, and cheers. He, like everyone in the class, had passed. It was now time to thank the judges.

Crowding the lab, the students stood before the three judges. Bodamer posed a question to the seniors — “Did anyone recognize them from the pictures on the wall?”

It took a second before the penny dropped. The lab judges were North Point graduates and AHP alumni. Heather Edelen graduated in 2011. She is a registered nurse who works in emergency services at the University of Maryland Charles Regional Medical Center. Rosemary Crowl graduated from North Point in 2012 and is a registered nurse working as the pre-op/post-anesthesia care unit (PACU) nurse manager at the Anne Arundel Medical Center. Emili Kober is a 2014 North Point graduate and is now a registered nurse in the University of Maryland Baltimore’s emergency services.

The seniors had many questions for the veterans. “What’s the best part about being a nurse?” “What’s the worst?” “How did you study in college?” “What was the hardest college course you took?” Crowl, Edelen, and Kober answered the questions as quickly as they were asked. “Your coworkers.” “The hours. Working on holidays and weekends.” “Find a good study group.” “Pathophysio.”

The graduates were hit with a wave of nostalgia coming back to North Point. Crowl said, “It even smells the same.” She, Edelen, and Kober remembered being in the shoes of the seniors. “I remember being nervous, but I think I blocked it out,” Edelen said. “I don’t remember doing any skills.” They could recall the relief of passing the exam. “… Hearing them celebrate every time someone went out — I remember that feeling,” Kober said.

Before the exam, the three graduates looked over the skills that would be tested and found them pedestrian — but everyone has to start somewhere. “I think it makes us appreciate how far we’ve come,” Kober said. “It’s the little things we learned.”

“Oh yeah,” Edelen agreed. “These are the first steps.”

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