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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, October 11, 2001

Interest in medical training surges

By Jennifer Hiller
Advertiser Education Writer

Myrtle Samuela has always wanted to work for the Red Cross.

But in 1998, a fall down a flight of stairs nearly ended that dream. The single mother of three was seriously injured and faced a long and uncertain recovery in a hospital bed.

"They said I could be paralyzed for the rest of my life," Samuela said. "I had kids to take care of. I said I was down but not broken."

She ended up on partial disability and slowly regained her strength with the help of physical therapy. By taking classes at a theological school, she also got her spiritual life in order.

Now Samuela wants to return the favor. This year, she is bringing her life full circle with a new marriage and a chance for a new career as a certified nurse assistant. She started taking classes at the beginning of the month at Healthcare Training and Career Consultants, a Honolulu-based company that trains students for positions such as nurse assistant, home health care worker and medical assistant.

With layoffs happening statewide since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the company has fielded a surge in inquiries about working in the medical field.

Catherine Lee of Makiki said she signed up for the certified nurse assistant training classes before Sept. 11, but news coverage of disaster relief in New York has made her certain that she has chosen the right field. "I'm glad that I did because I want to help in disaster relief," she said. "It just woke me up."

Samuela said the events of Sept. 11 inspired her, too.

"I'm so glad I can take this course because of what's happened now," she said. "Even though the world looks like it is falling apart, I believe we can all pull ourselves together one by one."

Cionie Patricio, president and director of operations at Healthcare Training and Career Consultants, is a former head nurse at a nursing home. She said she founded the health-care training school in 1999 after watching some of her own aides struggle with how to interact with patients.

"I felt for the residents," she said. "I didn't like the tone of voice people used. I didn't want people to sound like they were talking to kids. My dream is to produce a new breed of certified nurses assistants who have dignity and respect for elders and others who need help."

About 75 students each month go through the classes in Honolulu and Waipahu. Many of the students come through welfare-to-work programs and are striving toward the first professional job of their lives. They take a Red Cross certification test at the end of the program.

"You can see the eagerness in them," Patricio said. "This is a career and a vocation as well. We emphasize the qualities they must possess."

Samuela hopes the training will allow her to eventually work with the Red Cross. Her own experience as a patient will be valuable for encouraging people and treating patients with respect, she said.

"I know how it feels to be on that bed," Samuela said. "I have no regrets. I'm proud of myself because I know I can give back."

Reach Jennifer Hiller at jhiller@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8084.