UNM-LA is launching a Personal Care Attendant (PCA) course in October which is designed for individuals interested in working as paid care attendants, as well as for family members of patients who need in-home care.

With many Los Alamos residents choosing to stay in their homes as they age, there is a burgeoning need for non-family care attendants in the county. The Personal Care Attendant course teaches students the skills to provide care for patients.

Melanie Colgan will teach the PCA course. Her prior work experience as a registered nurse includes teaching nursing at all levels, from beginning to senior level, and teaching clinicals in hospitals, which involves overseeing nurses as they begin their work with patients.

Colgan shared a personal observation about the PCA course. “The mother of my best friend from childhood battled multiple sclerosis for 30 years. During the last 7-8 years she was completely bedridden. Her husband—my friend’s father—took a Patient Care Attendant course to learn to care for his wife at home. He found it invaluable.”

Colgan grew up in the Washington, DC area, and became a certified EMT during her senior year of high school. While in high school, as a member of the ROTC, Colgan had the opportunity to work as a Field Corpsman, medic, at Quantico one summer and during some school breaks.

Her Naval ROTC scholarship took her to Auburn University in Alabama where she attained her Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Once Colgan embarked on her professional career, she worked as an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) nurse at St. Joseph Hospital in Denver, then later at the East Alabama Medical Center ICU.

When Colgan and her husband moved to Los Alamos, she attended UNM and received her Master of Science in Nursing with a concentration in Nursing Education. She has served as a house supervisor at Los Alamos Medical Center, and worked in the ICU at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Santa Fe.

Colgan says her favorite aspect of nursing is, “Helping people in their greatest time of need.” She looks forward to helping her students at UNM-LA develop the skills to do this.

For the PCA, UNM-LA has adopted the curriculum that has been very successful at UNM-Valencia. Students will learn to:

  • Monitor vital signs and keep records
  • Move a patient from bed to a wheelchair
  • Care for and groom a bedridden patient
  • Feed a patient
  • Deal with tubes (ostomy, catheter, drainage tubes)
  • Administer CPR and first aid

Other areas of study include:

  • Infection prevention
  • Basic anatomy and physiology
  • Common chronic or acute conditions such as Parkinson’s, diabetes, dementia and shingles
  • How to walk with a walker or cane or with a gait belt
  • Human development and aging
  • Fall prevention
  • Changes in diet with aging
  • Hospice

The PCA course will share the newly remodeled EMS classrooms at UNM-LA. The simulation classroom includes a home setting with a murphy bed, a small living area and bathroom, as well as a hospital setting. The facility serves a number of students including those who are majoring in EMS and Fire Science, as well as students who take classes to become EMT certified.

The remodel was financed primarily with proceeds from New Mexico GO Bonds and will potentially continue to grow with continued GO Bond financing.  

The PCA program also includes shadowing professionals in a nursing or rehabilitation facility for 16 hours. After completing classroom time and passing competency tests, students will receive a UNM-LA certificate and be eligible to test for certification through the NM Direct Care Givers Coalition.

For students interested in becoming nurses, Colgan says, “Nursing school admissions are very competitive. Having a PCA certification could give candidates a leg up.”

The Personal Care Attendant course at UNM-LA begins on October 3. The five credit hour class will meet Mondays from 9:15–11:15 a.m. and Fridays from 9 a.m.– 3 p.m.

For more information about the course contact Cindy Leyba at cleyba@unm.edu or 505-663-3407.

To learn more about the numerous programs at UNM-LA, visit the UNM-LA website.