UNM-LA News:

UNM-Los Alamos (UNM-LA) offers programs that train students to meet specific needs in our community, including the fields of emergency medicine and health care.

In 2013, UNM-LA developed an Emergency Medical Services (EMS) program. In 2016, the college began offering the Personal Care Attendant (PCA) program, and then in the Spring of 2017 the Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) program was added. Transfer programs in Pre-Professional Health are also available.

The EMS, CNA and PCA programs prepare students to work in fields that have a very high employment potential. Home health aides and personal care assistants currently rank as the top occupations with the highest job growth. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, as the baby-boom population ages, the increase in the number of clients requiring assistance will cause a huge demand for employees in the health industry. Between 2014 and 2024, nationally there will be a need for an additional 348,400 home health aides, 154,200 personal care aides, 267,800 nursing assistants, and 58,500 emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and paramedics. (

PCA, CNA and EMT classes are held in the Emergency Medical Services Training facility at UNM-LA which provides spaces for specific scenario-based training, including a mock-up of a bathroom, a living/bedroom area, an ambulance simulator, and an emergency room. Students have the opportunity to practice in settings they are likely to encounter once they are working.

Melanie Colgan, RN, M.S.N., teaches both the Personal Care Attendant (PCA) and Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) programs. The PCA course 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 so many of our Los Alamos residents choosing to stay in their homes as they age, there is a burgeoning need for trained care attendants.

The CNA course prepares students for home care jobs or careers in hospitals or retirement facilities. The CNA course is an eight credit hour course with an additional 32 hours of clinical training. The PCA course is a five credit hour class with an additional 16 hours of clinical training. Both programs include classroom work, followed by clinical practice completed in a medical facility.
 For students interested in becoming nurses, Colgan says, “Nursing school admissions are very competitive. Having a PCA or CNA certification could give candidates a leg up.”

Joseph Candelaria, Program Coordinator for EMS at UNM-LA, helped create the EMS concentration in the Fire Sciences Department. Instructors of the UNM-LA program, including Candelaria, currently work for the Los Alamos Fire Department, and can add valuable perspectives and share stories from their field experiences with the students.

Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) certification is a stepping stone to becoming a paramedic or other medical professional, and EMTs can work in pre-hospital environments such as patient transport, fire departments, and police departments. EMT-Basic is a core class of UNM-LA’s Associate of Science in Emergency Medical Service program, and also serves students pursuing bachelors and medical degrees, or individuals who need emergency responder skills.

“We have students fresh out of high school going after degrees and others who work at LANL or other professional jobs who want to be emergency responders,” Candelaria said. “The pool of students in EMT-Basic aren’t a specific age or on a specific career path, but most have a passion for it.”

The UNM-LA EMS instructors are certified through the EMS Academy at UNM main campus and through the State of New Mexico. Candelaria added that the UNM EMS program is governed under the UNM School of Medicine, “So a lot of our students aren’t just looking to become paramedics, but rather nurses, doctors, and physician assistants.”

EMT Basic includes an eight credit hour class and a two credit hour lab, and prepares the student to sit for National Registry testing.

Classes in all three of these areas will be offered at UNM-LA in the spring semester which begins on January 16. The specific classes are: CNA 101 – Nursing Assistant, PCA 101 – Personal Care Attendant, and EMS 113 – EMT-Basic. Financial assistance for students in these programs may be available through the SUN PATH grant, a partnership with the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions funded by the U.S. Department of Labor, or through other local scholarships. Contact Gabe Baca at for more information.

UNM–Los Alamos is an innovative, rigorous, and affordable comprehensive branch community college that provides foundations for transfer, leading-edge career programs, and lifelong learning opportunities. Registration is now open for fall classes. More information about UNM-LA is available at

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