Virginia Health Services apprentices reflect on experience so far

National Apprenticeship Week is Nov. 15-21. Virginia Health Services used the week to highlight graduates from the Care Assistant to Nurse Aide earn-as-you-learn apprenticeship program.

The apprenticeship includes paid training and covers the cost of the state certification exam to be a CNA.

The program has had five classes graduate this year, with a sixth cohort currently in progress. Students get about a month of paid classroom and clinical training, and VHS employs graduates in our nursing and rehabilitation centers following graduation.

The success of the program has led to Virginia Health Services developing a full Career Advancement Program (CAP) to grow its workforce in culinary and environmental services as well with additional paid training and leadership development.

This week, current employees in culinary and environmental services were invited to partake in the program.

Virginia Health Services participates in the Healthcare Apprenticeship Expansion Program (HAEP), which is funded with a Department of Labor grant. The apprenticeship offers paid, on-the-job training.

Our graduates

Michael Polite, James River

VHS apprentice Michael PoliteMichael Polite is a Nurse Aide at James River Convalescent and Rehabilitation Center. He started in environmental services at James River, then enrolled in the apprenticeship program.

He says he was drawn to senior care after helping care for his grandmother.

The September graduate is studying for the state boards, and is confident he’ll pass because of his training with VHS instructor Nora Gillespie. The training program includes classwork and learning 22 clinical skills.

“You use everything she teaches you,” he said of his daily routine. “She really emphasizes dignity and respect, and so if I can put a smile (on a Resident’s face), when I walk out of the room, I feel like I’ve done my job.”

Jessica Campbell & Devyn Hotop, CNAs, The Newport

Jessica Campbell and Devyn Hotop are CNAs at The Newport. They were in the third apprenticeship cohort that graduated in July and they passed their certification exam in September.

Hotop, the class salutatorian, said being in the program made her realize she wants to be in healthcare.

“I think what really stood out was clinical (skills on the floor),” Hotop said. “and just how happy everybody was with our care and the way they are doing. And the patients were just motivating us throughout the whole process. I think that made me feel good. I want to be here, it made me want to do it. And definitely having the help from one another.”

Campbell and Hotop bonded fast in class and now as coworkers. They rely on one another during shifts and like working together. Both say they can hear instructor Nora Gillespie’s voice in the back of their minds, encouraging them and walking them through all the steps they learned in class.

Both say they feel supported in their roles at The Newport. Campbell and Hotop said their CNA training has them interested in pursuing nursing career paths as an LPN or RN.

“It’s all worth it,” Hotop said.

Donae Mcdonald, York

Donae Mcdonald is a Nurse Aide at York Convalescent and Rehabilitation Center. She was in the fifth cohort and graduated in October.

Mcdonald’s class was co-taught by instructors Nora Gillespie and Princess Henderson. They made an impact on her. “Ms. Nora and Princess are great teachers and VHS has a good program,” she said.

It was the earn-as-you-learn paid training that Mcdonald said drew her to the opportunity. She is exploring nursing school options, and enrolled in pre-requisite classes with Thomas Nelson Community College.

She says the apprenticeship program is “a great opportunity because at first you are here (as a Care Assistant) and shadowing a Nurse Aide, and I feel like at that point you can see if there’s something that is beneficial for you.”

Dana Turner, CNA, York

VHS apprentice Dana TurnerDana Turner, who is a CNA at York, was in the third cohort and graduated in July.

Instructor Nora Gillespie said she was like bubbles and champagne, with her positivity just radiating out toward the Residents she worked with on the floor during clinicals.

She’s still bubbly now, having passed her certification exam and fulfilling a dream decades in the making. After spending more than 10 years housekeeping in hospitality, she is working in senior care as a CNA.

“I have wanted to do this forever, but I never could afford to not get paid 4-to-6 weeks taking a class. There wasn’t a program like this,” she said.

She also has a little seasoning now, and with experience comes perspective. She likes working with current students who are working on their clinical skills at York. She likes helping the Care Assistants learn the ropes.

And Turner knows empathy is key to doing the job well. “I just try to find ways not to make (the Residents) feel so bad (about not being able to do things for themselves),” she said. “It’s why I’m here!”

Turner said the program, particularly the instruction provided, is a great way to start in healthcare.

“I just love it!” she says.

Culinary and EVS apprentices

This week, we invited team members in our culinary and environmental services departments to participate in paid training and leadership development as part of VHS’ expanding Career Advancement Program. Team members from Coliseum, James River and corporate fill out the first field of apprentices in those areas.

Apprenticeships available

A career in healthcare could be the right fit for you, too. Learn more about Virginia Health Services’ career opportunities at


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