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WATCH | Gateway Allied Health holds first graduation ceremony

by Courtney Edwards | February 19, 2023 at 4:04 a.m.
Mellonie Conrad, right, is presented with flowers from the first graduating class of Gateway Allied Health following the school's commencement ceremony at Lake Hamilton High School. – Photo by Courtney Edwards of The Sentinel-Record

Gateway Allied Health held its inaugural commencement ceremony on Feb. 10, about a year after classes first started, with 33 graduates.

The program director, Mellonie Conrad, with more than 25 years of experience in health care, started Gateway Allied Health last year after realizing the community's need for more health care workers. As Hot Springs is a community with lots of retired-age residents, it's important to have plenty of health care workers in the area, she said.

An allied health school offering collegiate level training for entry level positions in health care, Gateway Allied Health, 174 Cornerstone Court, Suite C, now offers seven programs with classes preparing students for roles such as certified nursing assistant, certified medical assistant, certified phlebotomy technician, certified pharmacy technician, certified electrocardiograph technician, certified surgical technician and certified medical coding & billing specialist.

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"Yes, we have a nursing shortage, for sure," Conrad said. "However, you know, we need techs. Nurses need heroes, too. These techs are just as important as the nurses are. They're our eyes, ears, and even our voice."

About 90% of the graduates are already in the workforce, Conrad said in an email to The Sentinel-Record.

Gateway Allied Health is currently partnered with CHI St. Vincent Hot Springs. The school is now also partnered with Baptist Health Medical Center, mainly for the surgical tech program and the pharmacy tech program, Conrad said.

"CHI really emphasizes human kindness and just doing good for one another," she said. "So, the students are really enjoying their clinicals, and I've had a lot of good, positive feedback from, not just the students, but also, you know, from the staff members and the preceptors that they're assigned to," Conrad said. "So, we're really happy to be working with them."

Kennedy Campbell, a recent graduate of Gateway Allied Health's phlebotomy and CNA programs, said her future plans include finishing her bachelor's degree from Henderson State University and then attending graduate school. To attend grad school, she needed patient care hours, which she obtained during her time at Gateway Allied Health. For now, she works as a CNA for CHI St. Vincent Hot Springs.

"I do commute from here to Arkadelphia, so I think that not having to drive to school there and then drive to school for CNA somewhere else was really helpful," she said.

"Also, after I graduated, I got a job at CHI, so I think that it really benefited the location because they really helped me, being in the same town as CHI, getting me a job there after I graduated."

Most of the school's classes are online or hybrid, but CNA classes are offered in a traditional in-person classroom setting.

"This is not just for Hot Springs," Conrad said. "This covers the whole state of Arkansas. If there are students that would like to take a hybrid course, they can do their clinicals in the counties that they live in if there's a CHI facility close by."

Gateway Allied Health also recently became partners in education with Lake Hamilton School District, partnering with the Career Pathways Initiative program.

"I had two students that I have raised that have graduated out there," Conrad said. "I feel like I've spent my whole life out there, and, you know, (I'm) excited about being part of LH Wolf Nation again, on a different level, though."

Gateway Allied Health now has about 35 new students enrolled, just since January, Conrad said in the email.

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