Nursing assistant school a big success

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You're never too old to start a new business. Just ask Bernadette Billinger, who took the entrepreneurial leap at age 63.

When Billinger, a nurse and former health care administrator, and her partner Lindsay Mulder started the South Denver School of Nursing Arts in Centennial in 2009, they did not expect that in less than four years, their school would be known as one of the best nursing assistant training facilities in the south metro area.

Since opening less than four years ago, more than 500 students have graduated from the school.

Billinger, who has both an MBA and MSHA (master of science and health administration), serves as the school's program coordinator, while the much younger Mulder, who is in her mid-30s and currently working on her own master's degree, serves as the school's primary instructor.

Both Billinger and Mulder worked as RNs and Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) instructors at other training facilities before starting the school.

“There was nothing like this in the southeast metro area and Lindsay and I saw an opportunity,” says Billinger. “I was teaching at the time and wanted to be more in control of my life. As I got older, coming in and punching a time clock just didn't suit me anymore. But this does.”

Located in a suite on the third floor of an office building on Arapahoe Road just west of Interstate 25, class sizes at the school are limited to 10 students per session. “There's no standing around or waiting to practice skills,” says Billinger. “Our instructors are always right there beside the students.”

Courses last approximately five weeks, after which students take a two-part, written and skills-demonstration state exam.

“They take the test right here at the school and find out if they pass the same day,” Billinger explains.

Once licensed, Billinger says, CNAs provide personal care (bathing, dressing, feeding, toileting) to patients in settings that include hospitals, long-term care facilities, hospices and private homes.

The complete cost of the CNA course at South Denver School of Nursing Arts, including exam and licensing fees, is $1,500.

The tuition, Billinger says, “is all-inclusive. I hate to be nickel-and-dimed, so Lindsay and I decided to bundle everything into one price.”

In addition to passing the state exam, Billinger says would-be CNAs must also pass a background check and drug screen in order to be licensed to work in a clinical setting.

The highly marketable occupation, Billinger adds, can serve as a prerequisite for acceptance into associate or bachelor degree nursing programs and also fulfills the direct patient-care hours required for admittance into other medical programs, such as radiology or medical school.

The pay scale for nursing aides ranges from $12-$15 an hour, and Billinger says in recent years graduates have had no problems finding jobs because of “constantly growing” demand in this health-care field.

The next sessions of both daytime and night classes start the first week of October.

For more information about the program or to enroll, call 303-945-4203 or go to www.southdenverschoolofnursingarts.com.