International Institute hits milestone with nursing assistant program

By William Rohda

The International Institute of Minnesota recently announced it has reached the milestone of training 3,000 certified nursing assistants.

The institute, 1694 Como Ave., has been operating since 1919 with a mission to help immigrants and refugees achieve self-sufficiency and full membership in American life. The institute works to ensure its programs are linguistically and culturally accessible to all communities it serves. 

To achieve this goal, the nonprofit provides workforce development and education programs. It also offers, among other things, citizenship classes, immigration assistance and housing and medical services.  

Institute executive director Jane Graupman was one of the people charged with creating the nursing assistant program 33 years ago. Today, that program is one of the institute’s most popular workforce programs. It has trained new Americans to meet critical employment demands in nursing homes, hospitals and other medical facilities requiring certified nursing assistants.

The nursing program has adapted over the years to improve its effectiveness. According to Graupman, almost all graduates who take the Minnesota certified nursing assistant test pass.

The institute recognizes that many of its students are new to English and modifies its program to last longer than other programs in the state. The additional time allows the students to learn all the new medical terminology and become comfortable with their work environments after graduation.

The practice labs contain the necessary supplies and equipment used on the job. They also simulate a real working environment with personal items students might see, such as hand-drawn artwork from grandchildren or photos of family members.

Combining experience and knowledge helps prepare the students to use their expertise in a new working environment.

Valerie Geary, the nursing instructor at the institute, has been one of the people passionately helping teach students the skills required to excel as a nursing assistant.

Graupman said there’s a lot of instruction on American work culture in the program. Students learn about non-verbal communication and the fast-paced work environments they will encounter.

The students themselves come from many diverse backgrounds. According to Geary, they have trained men and women from over 50 countries throughout the life of the program.

Geary contended the institute’s students stand out from other nursing assistants because of their innate caregiver mentality.

“They just have these really special abilities to want to make somebody else comfortable, happy and cared for,” said Geary. “And I think that that’s just really special about our students.”

After completing the nursing assistant program and passing the state test, the institute helps graduates find jobs. According to Graupman, virtually everybody who wants a job gets a job.

The institute also helps its graduates continue their medical education. Grupman noted that 700 of the graduates have gone on to become registered nurses.

The nursing program at the institute offers two different tracks, a seven-week program and an eleven-week program. Both programs are free to students.

According to Geary, the institute holds about 10 classes annually, with about 16 students in each session. On average, the institute trains 100 nursing assistants a year.

During her time at the institute, Graupman said one of the biggest things she’s learned while working with people from around the world is how alike are human beings.

“There are just so many impulses that we all share,” she said. “All the differences that people try to create are really, really silly.”

William Rohda is a senior at the University of Minnesota studying journalism.

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