Second cohort of Virginia Health Services apprentices graduate to Nursing Aides

Virginia Health Services’ second cohort of Care Assistants graduated Friday at The Arbors at Port Warwick.

It is the second Virginia Health Services apprenticeship class. The earn-as-you learn apprenticeship program pays participants to take the classes and complete clinical work necessary to move from Care Assistants to Nursing Aides.

The graduates will take the state certification in about a month to qualify as CNAs.

A class of six started May 3, taught by Nora Gillespie at VHS’s Employment, Enrichment and Education (EEE) Center in Port Warwick. One student worked through the program with instructor Ann Armstrong at Lancashire Convalescent and Rehabilitation Center in Kilmarnock.

Participants had to learn 22 skills in 26.5 days. There were tests, lessons and hands-on work.

Virginia Health Services apprenticeship graduates

Virginia Health Services apprenticeship graduates take their seats during a ceremony June 4, 2021.

“It was very challenging, but they were up to the task,” Gillespie proudly told the graduates and their friends and families in attendance at Friday’s ceremony. “You did it, and you didn’t do it alone.”

In opening remarks, VHS Vice President of Operations Don Lundin congratulated the group, telling them, “There is so much need for what you are about to embark in. … It’s hard work. … It’s meaningful work.

“We are here to celebrate everything you are about to accomplish.”

Gillespie shared that the students bonded as a team.

“I’ve never had a class as focused as they were,” she said.

She shared sentiments about each graduate. Common threads included the team being compassionate, treating their patients with dignity and respect, and being organized and efficient.

Valedictorian Kimberlynne Watkins, a recent Hampton University graduate, said in her speech, “We started as mere strangers … but as we leave we’re taking more than a certificate with us. We have gained heart, compassion, diligence and so much more. … I’m proud to say I have made a friend in every single one of you.”

Watkins was also complimentary of Gillespie.

Virginia Health Services apprenticeship graduation

Virginia Health Services apprenticeship cohort valedictorian Kimberlynne Watkins and instructor Nora Gillespie.

“We can confidently say you fully prepared us to take on our roles as nursing aides. No matter what happens, we will always have your voice in our head guiding us.”

She also thanked program director Bryanna Rhodes.

Salutatorian Nicole Brown, Lawrence “Eli” Rhodes, Jasmine Smith, Sachae Simmons, Michelle Watts and Tanya Wiggins joined Watkins in receiving their certificates of completion, pins, name badges, flowers and VHS goodie bags.

They were joined by family and friends for a reception with refreshments at The Arbors, VHS’s independent living community.

Virginia Health Services Apprenticeship

The apprenticeship program is part of the Healthcare Apprenticeship Extension Program, which is partially funded by a grant from the Department of Labor.

A previous cohort graduated in April, and many are placed at facilities throughout Virginia Health Services’ network.

Three of Friday’s graduates are slated to be Nursing Aides at VHS’s James River Convalescent and Rehabilitation Center. Others are going to Northampton, York and Lancashire Convalescent and Rehabilitation centers.

“We’re excited to have you be part of our team,” Lundin told the graduates.

Virginia Health Services apprenticeship graduation

Virginia Health Services apprenticeship salutatorian Nicole Brown receives her certificate of completion and other goodies during a graduation ceremony June 4, 2021, at The Arbors at Port Warwick.

Careers with Virginia Health Services

Gillespie said the program is one of the best things VHS does.

The program provides the training and the pay, which is unusual. Gillespie said previously those interested had to take time off from other jobs to attend classes, and pay for the course. This flips the process on its head, making participating in Care Assistant training and advancement accessible to those who are interested.

It also provides employment opportunities, both during the training and as the apprentices continue through the program as Nursing Aides.

“The role of a CNA is the foundation of long-term care,” Gillespie said. “You know the residents better than anyone else. You add quality to their lives.”

Another apprenticeship class is slated to start June 21. Apprenticeship classes are ongoing throughout the year. Click here for the latest application.

VHS has a continual need for Care Assistants (CAs), Certified Nursing Aides (CNAs), Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) and Registered Nurses (RNs), and has positions available in all of its Peninsula locations. Visit the Careers page for details.