By Jason A. Smith
Sylvia Lawson said students in her medical-training facility learn not only how to meet patients' needs from a clinical perspective, but also from an emotional one.
"You're there to take care of them, to show them that you care about their ... well-being," said Lawson, one of two managing directors at the McDonough Health Careers Institute. The school, located at 103 Jonesboro Road in McDonough, offers classes for prospective certified nursing assistants (CNA), phlebotomy technicians, ultrasound technicians, and other related fields.
She opened the institute in 2005 with her sister, fellow managing director, Jenifer Smith.
Lawson, who oversees the administrative end of the business, said the venture was born from a personal experience, when her son was attempting to upgrade certification for his career as a CNA.
"He came from New York and he went to a school in College Park, and they did not give him the training that he needed," Lawson said. "We searched ... looking for a CNA program, and we couldn't find one. So we decided we needed to open a school ... so we can train people well, so they're not having to go to school ... and losing their money, because they're not getting trained properly."
She added that the school has grown significantly from its modest beginning, and is now certified as a regional testing site for the state of Georgia. "We've worked our way up to 118 students," said Lawson. "We started off with five students, with one program for certified nursing assistants. We've worked our way up by trying to provide a service of excellence, making sure that they get the training that they need to be able to serve the community and their patients well."
One reason for the institute's growth, she continued, is its welcoming environment and "open-door policy. You have to provide a good atmosphere for people to learn," said Lawson. "I think we max out at about 15 students [per class]. They develop a better relationship with each other ... and they're comfortable with each other. I'm not saying, as we get bigger, our classes won't get bigger. But if we establish a good base of interaction with students and staff, and are making sure that they feel like they're in a good atmosphere, [it] helps them to learn better."
The private institute is now in its pre-accreditation stage with the federal government. Once this phase is complete, Lawson said, options will be increased for students at the school. "In the next year or so, all students that come here will be able to apply for the Pell [Grants], and federal loans they can get through banks in different areas," she said.
Jenifer Smith supervises the medical instruction at the institute, with a staff including two registered nurses and three licensed practical nurses. She worked previously with Cancer Care, a non-profit organization in New York -- dedicated to caring for cancer patients and family members -- as well as at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.
Smith said the meticulous nature of medical record-keeping often takes precedence over caring for a patient's specific needs. "With the doctors I have worked for, I've always had to have everything, in place -- X-rays, dictation notes, files from other doctors, consultation notes," Smith said. "If anything was left out, then, it would be a day that a person wouldn't get what they needed [for] surgery, radiation or treatment. So, we want to teach our students that they've got to go beyond and above, to give assistance to their patients."
She added that students at the institute are taught to hone certain qualities, which must be present in order to benefit patients. "You have to be kind, have compassion and be generous to do this kind of work," she said. "You have to want to do this."
One prospective medical assistant, Victoria Greene, of Covington, has been a student at the school since February. She said she became interested in the school after being laid off in February of 2008, from a job in the administrative area of a medical facility. "I decided that this would just help boost my resume," said Greene. "This way, when I go looking for a job, I have more options. Now, I'm learning the clinical side of things, and I find that I'm learning a lot about the procedures and medical terminology. I feel that the school is really preparing me to go out into the field."
Rachel Alexander, of Atlanta, has been attending the school for six months,, in her quest to become a medical assistant. She was initially drawn to the facility because of the "warmness" of its staff, and the small learning environment. Alexander believes she has learned a great deal. "The instructors are very knowledgeable, and the texts that we use equip you for the position," she said.
"I've educated myself to the point that I'm able to identify things in the medical field that I wasn't able to before, so I feel like I'm ... getting a good education."