Deborah Heart and Lung Center Welcomes Inaugural Class of High School Nursing Assistant Interns

Two Pemberton Township High School Medical Arts students – Brianna Braman and Paige Wherley — began an eight-week Nursing Assistant (NA) Internship Program at Deborah Heart and Lung Center. The brand-new program — unique to the region — transitions high school students who have completed specific high school curricula and prepares them for job readiness after successful completion of their hospital rotation.

During the eight-week program, the students will undergo supervised training with Deborah’s nursing staff practicing such tasks as vital signs, bed baths, feeding, setting up patient equipment, specimen collection, and EKGs.

“We are delighted to have these high school students train at Deborah,” said Rita Zenna, Vice President Patient Care Services and Chief Nursing Officer, “Deborah is a teaching hospital, and while our core is in cardiology and vascular specialties, we also have a robust nursing program that has historically hosted college students for rotations. This is the first time we have accepted high school students into a formal internship program here.”

Pemberton Township High School Medical Arts Academy Advisor Elisabeth McCartney added: “We have a strong program which has been built over the years to provide our high school students the academic skills needed for college success in the medical field. Additionally, our clinical components have created opportunities for our students to earn academic credits while in high school; certifications that transfer directly into the work force; and training for subsequent successful job placement. The Nursing Assistant Program is the next step in this progression, and I’m excited that after successfully completing the internship at Deborah — in conjunction with the students’ coursework and testing proficiency — they will be ready to work in a variety of healthcare settings.”


Diana Tocko, RN, Deborah’s Director Quality, Clinical Practice and Education, was also excited about the new program. “Our nursing assistants play a vital role in our organization. They are on the front lines providing direct patient care and work closely with our nursing staff to make sure all of our patients daily needs are taken care of. We simply could not do our jobs without them.”

The program was developed collaboratively over the past three years with the high school faculty and Deborah clinical staff, aligning the Pemberton Township High School Nursing Assistant I, II, and III courses with the job specifications of nursing assistants at Deborah. Students who successfully complete the program will be able to work after graduation at a non-profit health care organization, or pursue certification through the state Certified Nursing Assistant program if they wish to do so after they turn 18 years old.

“We truly value the opportunities Deborah provides for our students,” said Pemberton Township Schools Superintendent Jeff Havers. “Our partnership with such an esteemed organization benefits not only our school community, but the Pemberton community as a whole.”

“We have worked every step of the way to prepare our students for a positive clinical experience,” said McCartney. “The collaboration between the high school and Deborah begins a journey together to build a foundation for future health care providers.”

“We are thrilled to have the next generation of NAs training right here at the hospital,” said Tocko. “In addition to us sharing with the students, we expect that they will share with us – their energy, their excitement, and their insights about the world and their patients. This is a win-win for us all.”

McCartney also noted that according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the overall employment of nursing assistants is projected to grow 8 percent until 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations. As the baby-boomer population ages, the demand for nursing assistants will increase. “It is great to be an educator and be in a position to help ensure that our students are prepared to enter the workforce after graduation.”

Deborah Heart and Lung Center, New Jersey’s only specialty heart, lung and vascular hospital, is an Alliance member of the Cleveland Clinic Heart, Vascular & Thoracic Institute.

From left, Deborah Heart and Lung Center Nursing Assistants Grace Dattner and Helene Archibald with Pemberton Township High School Medical Arts Academy seniors Paige Wherley and Brianna Braman training with their first Deborah patient Katherine Parola of Toms River. It was the students’ first day in an inaugural eight-week Nursing Assistant Internship Program at the Hospital.

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