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Tech school looks to fill medical void

By CHUCK BALLARO - | Jul 16, 2021

Sylvia Durisme in her office at Zeal Technical Institute on Friday.

The COVID-19 pandemic revealed a lot about the shortcomings our medical system has nationally, one of them being there simply are not enough people filling positions or taking on careers that hospitals and medical centers need.

One reason for that is because some found they could make more money on unemployment than if they found work full time.

Those days have ended in Florida and there is an opportunity for people to train for careers in the medical field that can have you working in as little as two weeks, making good money, and with little to no expense to you.

Zeal Technical Institute, at 4940 Bayline Drive, is offering classes right now for entry-level careers in the medical field, from medical assistant to phlebotomy technician.

The school opened in 2009 as Southwestern Vocational Training and changed its name to Zeal last year during the pandemic.

Sylvia Durisme, co-founder and president of Zeal, said it was time to rebrand, and that the decision paid off, though it took some time and effort.

“We had to shut down for nearly two months and as a hands-on technical school, overnight, we had to become an online school. It was tough to get our staff training to go online,” Durisme said. “But we got through it. We were able to come back to the office following CDC guidelines and made good out of it.”

The school started using a hybrid format that had students hear lectures online and come in-person for the clinical skills, though in smaller groups, which they are still using in some cases, with masks still required.

Durisme said they have seen a huge growth in some programs, such as phlebotomy technician, which grew 35 percent during the pandemic.

“There was such a need for healthcare professionals so these people were being trained in packs of 20 at the hospital to hire them,” Durisme said. “There are now more jobs being added. They expect 2 million more healthcare jobs by 2029, so more trained professionals are needed.”

Zeal plans to add more programs such as for licensed practical nursing and for EMT training as early as the end of this year.

Currently, they offer programs in cardiac monitor technician, medical administrative assistant, mental health aide, medical assistant, home health aide and patient care technician, as well as continuing education for nurses.

“The mental care program has gone really well. We saw the need for more professionals, so we did research on the mental health facilities being built and we’re the only one in Lee County offering that program,” Durisme said.

Zeal has trained around 200 people in various fields this year, with about 115 currently enrolled, said Durisme, who added most people coming to the school are single and working parents who are looking for a fast transition and who don’t have lots of money or time to spend in college. There are many scholarships available to qualified students.

The numbers have gone up as unemployment benefits have ended, forcing most to go back and look for work.

“If you want to be a home health giver, you can complete the program in two weeks and get employment almost immediately,” Durisme said. “There’s such a need for healthcare professionals in home health aide.”

Many healthcare providers have taken the lead in providing a living wage to its workers. With Florida eventually moving to a $15 an hour wage, some entry level CNAs are earning $18 an hour to start, since they are essential.

Workers can also receive training and education to go into other fields or learn extra skills to be paid more.

“It’s not just about the money. Being a healthcare professional is a lifestyle. You have to want to care for others. When I was a caregiver, I thought about my grandmother and how I would want people to take care of her, and that’s how I treated my clients,” Durisme said.

You can apply for classes anytime and see what kind of scholarships are being offered to qualified candidates by visiting the Zeal website at www.zealtechnicalinstitute.com or by calling 214-0717.