Six graduate to Nurse Aides at Virginia Health Services

Six members of the apprenticeship class graduated from Care Assistants to Nurse Aides during a ceremony held Friday, April 28, 2023, at The Arbors Independent Living.

A crowd of friends and family joined the graduates to celebrate their achievement, along with members from the Virginia Health Services corporate office in human resources, Vice President of Operations Don Lundin and President/CEO Mark Klyczek.

The earn-as-you-learn apprenticeship program graduates Care Assistants to Nurse Aides and covers the cost of the state certification exam to be a CNA. They are hired as Nurse Aides in VHS facilities – this class will work at Northampton, The Newport, Walter Reed and York Nursing and Rehabilitation Centers – and will undergo reviews with the team at the education center to prepare for the state exam.

Virginia Health Services CEO Mark Klyczek addresses the April 2023 apprentices during a ceremony at The Arbors.
Virginia Health Services CEO Mark Klyczek addresses the April 2023 apprentices during a ceremony at The Arbors.

Mark welcomed and congratulated the class.

“Graduation is always a fun thing to do. It’s the first step in your career in healthcare,” he said. “We want to help you keep moving on in patient care.”

Director of Education and class leader Princess Henderson, RN, added: “It’s only up from here!”

The graduates

The six members of the class attended what instructor Nora Gillespie, RN, calls “CNA bootcamp.” They learned 22 skills and took 14 tests over the course of six weeks.

Nora and Princess praised the graduates. Two members of the class are planning to enroll in nursing school.

Victoria Artis “rocked out clinicals,” Princess said. She listens to her Residents.

Princess said Jadan Byrd worked hard every day and has a heart for this kind of work.

Elle Koller was a “ray of sunshine,” according to Princess. The salutatorian made the Residents feel loved.

Nora recruited Elle during a feeding class at Walter Reed the Thursday before the class began. Elle was supported by her Walter Reed team and VHS to enroll in the class that following Monday. She plans to be in nursing school this summer.

“Now you know you want to be a nurse because you know you can do it,” Nora said of Ebony Spaulding.

“She’s flexible; very go-with-the-flow,” Princess said.

Valedictorian Tennille Warren is “calm and level-headed,” Princess said. She wants to be a doula.

Michelle White, who was awarded the clinical superlative for mastering blood pressure by Princess, “places her focus on the Residents,” Nora said.

Michelle created a sash for her friend Tennille to wear while giving her valedictorian message.

“I want to thank my teachers for pushing me to keep going,” Tennille said. She plans to enroll in classes to further her nursing education at ECPI.

Instructor Nora Gillespie addresses the apprenticeship class.
Instructor Nora Gillespie addresses the apprenticeship class.

The program

“We want our students to be successful,” Nora said to close out the ceremony. “Princess and I look for where we can reach you to make you the best you can be. You’ve got to have heart and care about what you do. We’re very proud of what you’ve accomplished.”

Princess said the class came together to get one another across the finish line.

“I’m proud of your team work,” she said.

Apply to be an apprentice

Our next class of apprentices start May 15. Applications for the July class will open in June and are available online at

Five VHS apprenticeship students graduate to Nurse Aides

Virginia Health Services hosted a graduation ceremony Thursday, March 2, 2023, for its five apprentices. They graduated from Care Assistants to Nurse Aides, and will have to pass the state board certification exam to become a Certified Nurse Aide (CNA).

The five apprentices were part of the VHS earn-as-you-learn program. Students are paid to attend class and graduate with a job within the company. The apprenticeship also covers the cost of the certification exam.

The five graduates will work at Northampton, The Newport and James River Nursing and Rehabilitation Centers.

“It’s not often everyone in my class touches my heart, but you all did,” said instructor Nora Gillespie, RN.

The graduates

Tiffany Colbourne (co-salutatorian), Eldreelnette (Ellie) Kpabla, Ke’Asia Jones, Joshai Smith (valedictorian) and Janelle Robinson (co-salutatorian) had to pass 14 tests and learn 22 skills during the course of about six weeks. The combination of classwork and clinicals allowed the students to put what they learned to the test while working with patients at James River.

“Your potential is limitless. You’re all great young ladies and were amazing during clinicals,” said Director of Education Princess Henderson, RN. “You really fought for your residents’ rights!”

Nora refers to the apprenticeship program as “CNA bootcamp” because of its intensity.

Valedictorian Joshai Smith gives remarks.
Valedictorian Joshai Smith gives remarks.

“You were wonderful,” she told the graduates. “But your job’s not done. You still have to review with Princess and I to prepare and pass state boards.”

The students were complimented on their focus, interest and camaraderie.

Joshai congratulated her fellow graduates in her valedictorian remarks.

“The past few weeks have been life changing as we learned the skills to become CNAs. Despite learning a lot of information to retain in a short amount of time, we all achieved it with each other. We all made it across the finish line; we should all be proud of ourselves. …

“Being in the CNA program has opened the door to new possibilities for our futures.”

Join our team

Applications for our May class will open April 3. Our next class starts March 20. Visit for program details and to apply when applications are open.

“This program is unique,” Nora said during the ceremony. “Students have jobs when they finish the program. They are paid to attend class. There are lots of opportunities at VHS for apprentices.

“Mine and Princess’s goal is to make you the best you can be.”

Two VHS team members honored as Argentum HAEP All-Stars

Virginia Health Services is proud to share two of our apprentices were selected as Healthcare Apprenticeship Expansion Program (HAEP) All-Stars by Argentum.

Shawn Hill and Valentina Zakieva are two of five selected All-Stars nationally. They were featured in Argentum’s January/February Senior Living Executive magazine and will honored during the Senior Living Executive Conference in New Orleans in May.

They were 2022 participants in Virginia Health Services’ earn-as-you-learn apprenticeship program that graduates Care Assistants to Nurse Aides and covers the cost of the certification exam to be a CNA.

Valentina graduated the program in February 2022 and was placed at York Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. She passed her certification exam in the spring and over the summer earned her Registered Medication Aide (RMA) license.

Shawn, who graduated to Nurse Aide in the July 2022 cohort, was studying for the certification exam while at Coliseum Nursing and Rehabilitation Center when a different opportunity came available. He recently moved into an activity assistant role at Coliseum, working with Residents in a different way.

They were nominated to the All-Star program by members of the VHS education center.

“These apprentices exemplified a commitment to service,” said Janet Andrews, Argentum’s HAEP Grant Program Manager, in a written statement. “The testimonies shared depicted the character of those willing to go the extra mile. Those that care for the communities they serve with excellence.”

Valentina Zakieva sits in front of the fireplace at The Hamilton.
Valentina Zakieva is a CNA/RMA at York Nursing and Rehabilitation Center and The Hamilton Assisted Living

The smallest tasks matter

Valentina Zakieva was the salutatorian of her 2022 cohort. She was working at York in the dietary department for six months prior and was encouraged to enroll by Dining Manager Nicole Freeman.

She says she appreciates the teamwork it takes across departments to provide the best possible care to the Residents at York and The Hamilton Assisted Living.

“This honor means people trust me,” she says. “My patients and coworkers like me and see how we work as a team to put our patients first.”

She and her husband moved to the U.S. from Russia. She is originally from Kazakhstan. It wasn’t until the move to the States that Valentina found herself drawn to healthcare.

“My background is international relations, but healthcare is in demand in the U.S.,” she says. “I like to help people.”

She says she had a good experience in the apprenticeship program under the instruction of Nora Gillespie, RN, and Director of Education Princess Henderson, RN. She adds the team at the education center helped her review for the certification exam – “I felt very prepared,” she says – and apply for opportunities within VHS.

Valentina says she takes pride in caring for her Residents and encourages new students in the apprenticeship to “look at the big picture.”

“My background is international relations, but healthcare is in demand in the U.S. I like to help people.”


That means, even if it’s a task that may fall to another department, if it is in the Resident’s interest, take care of it. That could mean taking out the trash or replacing a roll of toilet paper.

“And you have to listen to them. They need you and you want to make them feel good. Brush their hair, get them dressed, take pride and care in what you’re doing,” she says. “If they’re happy, we’re happy.”

She says she’s not stopping at CNA/RMA. She is waiting for documentation issues to be resolved for her to enroll in nursing school.

What path does she want to take?

“Of course, RN,” she says with a smile.

Shawn Hill portrait, seated.
Shawn Hill is the activities assistant at Coliseum Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.

Helping Residents creatively

Shawn Hill graduated in the July 2022 cohort and was working at Coliseum as a Nurse Aide when the activity assistant position became available. He was drawn to working with Residents in that capacity because of his interest in arts and crafts – any avenue that allows him to be creative.

“I’m a very creative person. I’ve been doing arts and crafts since kindergarten. I enjoy being around the senior population, have since I was a boy, so it’s been destined to happen. Our Residents love music. They love Bingo.

“I’m still interacting with the Residents, just on a different level.”

He still intends on going to VHS-offered reviews and taking his certification exam to be a CNA.

“I’m not going to give that up. I still have to take the test,” he says.

Shawn says he appreciates the encouragement he has gotten from everyone across departments and facilities at VHS.

“These people really know how to share their heart. I was doing it so long by myself, to get help from the place I work was very touching.”

Shawn Hill of his holiday collections for those in need

“They tell me I’m doing a good job, even if I’ve had a tough day,” he says, referring to Coliseum Administrator Dudley Haas and Assistant Administrator Haley Holland.

He carried his holiday donation tradition to VHS last year, collecting donations of toys and gift cards to distribute to those in need.

“It was so good,” he said. “These people really know how to share their heart. I was doing it so long by myself, to get help from the place I work was very touching. I’d love to expand it and involve more of our team members.”

The apprenticeship and recognition its brought has “meant a whole lot,” he says. “I live by, ‘if you work hard, you never know what will happen.’

“It’s been good all the way through (with Virginia Health Services), from when I first got hired.”

About the program

VHS’s apprenticeship program is done in partnership with Argentum and Hamilton-Ryker, with help from a grant from the Department of Labor. Applications for the next earn-as-you-learn course open Feb. 6. Our six-week courses run throughout the year and details and how to apply can be found at

VHS apprenticeship program featured on NPR podcast

Virginia Health Services President & CEO Mark Klyczek and Director of Education Princess Henderson, RN, were featured on an episode of “The Indicator,” a podcast about work and money on NPR.

The conversation with host Wailin Wong focused on VHS’s apprenticeship program, in which students earn as they learn in graduating to Nurse Aides and are supported through taking the state certification exam to be a CNA.

Eight apprentices graduate to Nurse Aides in December 2022 cohort

Virginia Health Services celebrated the graduation of its latest class of eight apprentices with a ceremony at The Arbors Independent Living on Friday, Dec. 16, 2022. It was followed by a reception at the education center.

The earn-as-you-learn apprenticeship graduates Care Assistants to Nurse Aides and covers the cost of the certification exam to be a Certified Nurse Assistant (CNA). The apprenticeship is a six-week course that includes classroom education and onsite clinical skills labs. The students take 14 tests and learn 22 skills. After graduation, the students also go through review sessions at the education center before taking the certification exam.

The graduates will be employed with VHS at York, Northampton and James River Nursing and Rehabilitation Centers.

VHS Vice President June Barbery gave opening remarks to the gathered students and family at Friday’s graduation.

“Nurse aides are more important than most people realize,” she said. “They have the most contact with the people who come to our facilities.

“Thank you for going through the course. I also want to give you a future thank you for wanting to take care of people and continuing to represent VHS.”

Instructor Nora Gillespie addresses the class of eight graduates, seated, wearing navy blue scrubs.
Instructor Nora Gillespie addresses the class of eight graduates during a ceremony Friday, Dec. 16, 2022, at The Arbors Independent Living.

The graduates

Instructor Nora Gillespie, RN, and Director of Education Princess Henderson, RN, spoke about each of the eight grads, noting their compassion, respect and ethical behavior while on the job.

“This group really was a team,” Nora said. “They lift up the Residents. They care about you because you care about them.”

Princess restated the role’s importance to the nursing team.

“It’s never easy. They are the foundation of our nursing team,” she said. “We’re proud to have them join VHS. This group all have qualities of great healthcare leaders.”

The graduates were: Latesha Bryant, Cassandra Cary, Cindy Douglas, Daizhane Hunter, Briana Pierce, Mikayla Washington, Christopher Williams and Cortney Wynne.

Latesha put her best foot forward, Princess said.

Cassandra was a “calming presence and was gentle in clinicals,” Princess said, with Nora adding, “Heart and compassion oozes out of her.”

The mother hen of the group was Cindy, who help keep her classmates and instructors in line as a “natural nurturer.” She was awarded the Clinical Superlative by Princess, who said “there is nothing she wouldn’t do for those patients.”

Daizhane, whose mother works at James River, “took great care of her patients,” Princess said.

Briana leads with her heart and “kept our spirits high,” her instructors said.

Nora said Mikayla “did me proud.” Princess added she did an “excellent job with her patients and I see her as a nurse leader.”

Salutatorian Christopher is a medication aide at The Hamilton Assistant Living. He took the course to further his skill set in patient care and had perfect attendance. He wants to be a RN.

“You are invaluable,” Nora said of the class.

The valedictorian

Valedictorian Cortney Wynne gives her speech.
Cortney Wynne gives her valedictorian address during Friday’s ceremony.

Cortney Wynne was the valedictorian of the class. She recently left a career in the Army to start a career in healthcare. (She also is expecting.)

She aced every test and was always on time.

“She meshed well with this group and gave it 100%,” Princess said. Nora added Cortney nailed every skill – and those skills will “open every door.”

Courtney gave a speech to celebrate the honor.

“When I first started the program, I didn’t know what to expect. I was nervous to start in a new field,” she said. “… I have enjoyed getting to know each and every one of you. … I have learned in life when you share certain experiences with people, it brings you closer together. This should be a good start for all of us. I couldn’t have chosen a better group to start my next chapter with.”

Join our team

Virginia Health Services is committed to this program and supporting its participants. We are now accepting applications for our January class. How to apply and the 2023 course dates are available at

Apprentices share VHS experiences over past year

In honor of National Apprenticeship Week (Nov. 14-20, 2022), Virginia Health Services is featuring two apprentices who have truly embraced what it means to develop a career within the organization.

Our earn-as-you-learn apprenticeship program graduates Care Assistants to Nurse Aides. The six-week course includes classroom and clinical experience. After graduation, our education team provides review sessions leading up to the state certification exam to be a Certified Nurse Aide (CNA). The program covers the cost of the exam, and our apprentices become team members at our seven nursing and rehabilitation centers.

The apprentices featured below are just two examples of how the program is a foundation to career development within Virginia Health Services.

Community care

Shawn Hill was a member of our July 2022 class. He has been working as a Nurse Aide at Coliseum Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. Soon he will start as the Assistant Activities Director at the facility. Below, he shares his experience in his own words.

Portrait of Shawn Hill
Shawn Hill graduated in July and will start as assistant activity director at Coliseum on Nov. 28.

I was a caregiver without a medical education. The apprenticeship program let me learn the skills I need to provide the proper care an individual deserves.

When I saw the earn-as-you-learn opportunity, I knew I couldn’t miss it! I stepped out on faith and applied. I was nervous, but I got the call!

My whole life changed because I am doing something I really want to do. My passion for people and helping others is on display daily. I dedicate my time outside of work to helping others as well.

My opportunities within VHS continue to expand. I’m excited to share I will start as an activities assistant at Coliseum on Nov. 28.

Serving the community inspires me. I have a nonprofit back-to-school event annually, I coordinate Christmas giveaways to families in need and much more. What I say to everyone, “If you are going to do a job, do a good one.”

Adding on certifications

Valentina Zakieva is a CNA/RMA at York Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. She graduated from the apprenticeship program in February 2022. At graduation, VHS Director of Education Princess Henderson called Zakieva her “ball of energy. None of us moved fast enough for you!” Valentina shares her journey with VHS below.

Portrait shot of Valentina Zakieva.
Valentina graduated the apprenticeship program in February and works at York.

The apprenticeship program with Virginia Health Services completely changed my life. I started in the dietary department, then enrolled in the earn-as-you-learn program to become a Nurse Aide. I passed my certification to CNA, and recently received my Registered Medical assistant (RMA) certificate.

I’m not stopping there. My goal is to become a RN.

It was an honor to be recognized at York as Team Member of the Year. I also was nominated as Apprentice of the Year in September. I work hard daily to justify the hopes placed on me. VHS has provided me the opportunity to thrive.

I am thankful for excellent teachers who imparted as much knowledge as possible on us and taught us skills until we got them precisely right.

I am here for the Residents. Seeing their smiles means the day is not lived in vain. I try to provide the compassionate care anyone would want to have for their loved ones.

I don’t regret moving to the U.S. three years. Everything is possible when you do it with love.

Join our team

We will start accepting applications for our January class on Dec. 5 at The class will begin Jan. 23, 2023. Please look for the Care Assistant job description to apply.

Class of 9 graduate to Nurse Aides with Virginia Health Services

Virginia Health Services welcomed nine new Nurse Aides to its ranks Friday with the graduation of its most recent class of Care Assistant apprentices.

The earn-as-you-learn apprenticeship program places Care Assistant students in the classroom and on the floor for clinicals for about six weeks before their graduation to Nurse Aides. The program also covers the cost of the certification exam to be a Certified Nurse Aide (CNA).

Instructor Nora Gillespie, RN, and Director of Education Princess Henderson, BSN, RN, said the nine women came together to form a sisterhood.

“They had each other’s backs,” Nora said.

The graduating class was: Daniesha Anderson, Latoya Eley, Elvia “Roxy” Harris, Krystal Jones (valedictorian), Darlesia Mauro, Tierra Nared, Amie Poe (salutatorian), Alexcia Pridgen and Ty’Zanae Sills.

They were joined by friends and family for the ceremony at The Arbors Independent Living and then a reception with cake at the education center.

VHS Vice President of Operations Don Lundin opened with remarks, saying, “We are all here to support what you are doing. This is a big step in your careers. The work that you do makes a difference in people’s lives.”

The class

To graduate the apprenticeship class, students must pass 14 tests and learn 22 clinical skills in about 25 days.

“Nothing is easy about this class,” Nora said. “You all were outstanding. You helped each other get across the finish line – especially in clinicals.

“What you should know,” she said, turning to the audience, “is each one of them has heart and compassion. … They had purpose in all they did.”

The nine women bonded quickly and all brought skill, commitment and compassion to each day of the experience.

“This is the stepping stone for your career in healthcare,” Princess said. “I’m proud of your growth and development throughout the class.”

Princess and Nora had glowing remarks about each graduate. Trending themes were their commitment, knowing they had a sense of purpose and connection to one another and their Residents, and having a heart for compassionate care.

Darlesia earned Princess’s Champion Award, because “she’s like Rocky” and had the third highest grade in the class.

Val & Sal

Amie Poe was the salutatorian. She had perfect attendance – and early attendance, Princess said.

“She had her nose to the grindstone,” Nora said. “And she found out it this was where she wanted to be.”

Valedictorian Krystal Jones “set the bar high,” Princess said. “You worked hard for this.”

Krystal fought through tears to deliver her valedictorian address.

“Y’all broke me out of my shyness,” she said. “We pulled through and got it done. I wish the best to you all in whatever you choose to do.”

Upcoming classes

The graduates will be placed at Coliseum, Northampton, York, The Newport and Walter Reed nursing and rehabilitation centers.

Join our team! We are always on the lookout for the next class of apprentices. The next class begins in November.

Applications for our January 2023 class open Nov. 14 and will be available at Apply to be a Care Assistant.

Seven apprentices graduate Virginia Health Services Nurse Aide program

Seven apprentices graduated from Care Assistants to Nurse Aides on Friday in Styron Square in Port Warwick. They were surrounded by enthusiastic family members and friends who treated the group like rockstars, taking photos, holding up handmade signs and cheering.

The graduates were instructed by Nora Gillespie for classwork at the Education Center and in clinical skills with Director of Education Princess Henderson at James River Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. The earn-as-you-learn apprenticeship program includes coursework, daily tests and learning 22 clinical skills.

VHS Vice President of Nursing Rebecca Boyd addresses the graduating class during a ceremony Friday in Port Warwick.

“I’m proud of this professional group of women,” Nora said at Friday’s ceremony. Princess added, “These women really built a sisterhood. They had each other’s’ backs.”

The group was welcomed by VHS Vice President of Nursing Rebecca Boyd.

“We’re proud they chose us as part of their career and they are starting it here,” she said.

The group will work in four of Virginia Health Services’ nursing and rehabilitation centers at Coliseum, James River, Northampton and York.

The graduates

Nora and Princess sang the praises of the graduates during the ceremony.

The class was relieved Tahmiyia Allison held off on giving birth until after graduation. “She gave 100% and never used being pregnant as an excuse,” Nora said.

Zoe Briggs, the salutatorian, is familiar with VHS. Her mother works in billing with VHS Pharmacy. “She has compassion and heart in what she does,” Nora said of Zoe.

Cyerra Hunter “loves her patients,” Princess said. “She wants them to feel good about themselves.”

Cierra Jackson, who earned a superlative award for hard work, was “always ready early,” Princess said. “She was focus, attentive and got it done.”

“Her warmth flows out of her,” Nora said of Jazmine Martin. “When she told me why she was here, it was, ‘I want to make someone’s life better.’ ”

Andrianna Phillips “brought a wealth of knowledge to these girls. She will be a great CNA for VHS and a great nurse,” Princess said.

Valedictorian Anjil Hicks just graduated from high school. Her perfect attendance edged out Zoe for the top honor. “She cares about those patients,” Princess said.

During her remarks, Anjil said, “as Nora said, our goal was for all of us to get across the finish line – and we did!”

There were a lot of hugs and tears during the ceremony as new name badges and certificates were awarded.

“Princess steered you all right,” Nora told the class.

Join the program

Virginia Health Services’ earn-as-you-learn apprenticeship program also covers the cost of the certification exam for the graduates to be Certified Nurse Aides (CNAs). The next class is scheduled to start Sept. 19.

Students are employed by Virginia Health Services from Day 1. There is a 12-month commitment to remain employed by VHS when joining the program.

Classes begin about every six weeks. To apply visit and look for the “Care Assistant” listing.

July apprenticeship graduates employed across all seven VHS nursing and rehabilitation centers

Virginia Health Services celebrated its most recent apprenticeship graduates with a ceremony in the shade of Port Warwick’s Styron Square on Friday.

The 16 graduates (one was unable to attend Friday’s ceremony) are employed across all seven VHS nursing and rehabilitation centers, from the Peninsula to Gloucester and the Northern Neck.

They started as Temporary Nurse Aides under a short-term program developed by the government to help staff the centers. The program expired at the beginning of June and the TNAs were enrolled in Virginia Health Services’ earn-as-you-learn apprenticeship.

VHS Vice President of Nursing Rebecca Boyd addresses the graduates and their friends and family members during Friday’s ceremony.

The apprentice program trains Care Assistants to graduate to Nurse Aides, and it covers the cost of the certification exam to be a CNA. VHS is proud to have developed this class to be CNAs in its facilities.

The class was instructed by VHS Director of Education Princess Henderson at James River Nursing and Rehabilitation Center and Nora Gillespie at the Education Center.

They proudly presented each graduate with a certificate of course completion, and Vice President of Nursing Rebecca Boyd gave each grad their new ID badge. The students had a condensed version of the apprenticeship, balancing time on the floor with 14 days of classroom work that included tests and perfecting 22 skills.

The graduates

The class of 16 was driven, committed to learning, and passionate and professional about the work. Henderson and Gillespie piled on the praise of the graduates so their friends and family members in attendance understood just how hard they worked to get to graduation day.

James River graduates: Tatyana Beale (salutatorian), Deaundra Eley, Clare Kingsley, Audra Lewis (valedictorian), Ashlee Newsome, Danyell Robinson and Jayda Taliaferro.

Education Center: Kayla Bromley, Miranda Frank (salutatorian), Shawntez Hill, Tyler Lowery, Alexis Panzer, Sarah Sulik (valedictorian), Shynerria Walker, Shakina White and Noel Williamson.


James River valedictorian Audra Lewis with instructor Princess Henderson.

James River class valedictorian Audra Lewis addressed her classmates and audience with a short speech thanking Henderson and Gillespie and complimenting her peers.

“Today we acknowledge the hard work and show our instructors, our family and ourselves that we are ready to enter into the next phase of our careers and academic lives. …

“We can celebrate this accomplishment as one. … Not a single one of us did it alone. We came together cohesively and were guided and encouraged by our wonderful instructors and mentors. … I look forward to what the future holds for each of us.”

Education Center valedictorian Sarah Sulik with instructor Nora Gillespie.

The valedictorian from the Education Center, Sarah Sulik, presented a letter read by Gillespie.

“It was an honor to get to know each of you over the course of this class,” the letter read. “Our success was a collaborative effort of not only to ourselves, but our brilliant teacher Ms. Nora. …

“When I started this class, I didn’t realize the potential I had, but the gracious Ms. Nora helped me realize I can achieve anything I put my mind to. I still have progress to make, but what I have learned in this course is something I will take with me for the rest of my life.”

Valedictorian Sarah Sulik hugs instructor Nora Gillespie during Friday’s ceremony.

Next class

Our next earn-as-you-learn apprenticeship class begins in August. All the slots are taken, but interested applicants can apply for the September class starting Aug. 15 at Look for the Care Assistant job description.

The class begins Sept. 19 and will include five weeks of classroom and on-the-floor instruction.

VHS thanks its Nursing Assistants for all their hard work and dedication

It is National Nursing Assistants Week June 16-22, 2022, and Career Nursing Assistants Day on June 16. Virginia Health Services celebrates its nursing assistants and CNAs (certified nurse aides) for the dedicated care they provide to our Residents at our independent living and assisted living communities and nursing and rehabilitation centers, and the individuals we serve with VHS Home Health Care and VHS Hospice.

We are thankful for their guidance, expertise, patience and advocacy. VHS is committed to investing in its Team Members from the start, offering an earn-as-you-learn apprenticeship program that provides classroom and hands-on experience to Care Assistants. Once graduated to Nurse Aide, the program also covers the cost of the certification exam.

“They are essential to long-term care,” says VHS education instructor Nora Gillespie of nursing assistants. “They are the eyes and ears for the nurses. They spend the most time with the Residents.”

CNAs have been on the frontlines since World War I, when certified nurses’ aides with the American Red Cross worked alongside Army nurses to treat wounded soldiers.

Virginia Health Services has several Team Members who have spent years dedicated to providing care in our facilities as CNAs.

VHS relies on them to be ambassadors and help train new employees on the floor. We spoke with three longtime CNAs with Virginia Health Services about their experiences.

Portrait of Carrie Isaac
Carrie Isaac has been a CNA at The Newport Nursing and Rehabilitation Center for 30 years.

Carrie Isaac, The Newport

Carrie has worked as a CNA with VHS for 30 years at The Newport Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. What’s kept her in her role for this long?

“My motivation to care for people, love and take care of them … sometimes we’re the last ones they see,” she says. “The smiles on their face keeps me going.”

She is a Senior Ambassador and trains newcomers to the role.

“You have to be a people person,” Carrie says of becoming a CNA. “You have to care about people and treat them well. At the end of the day, when you leave here, know you’ve done your job well.”

Carrie says the focus on the Residents, even the smallest touch like taking care in how they are dressed and brushing their teeth, can help them have a better day.

“It’s rewarding to make them happy at the end of the day,” she says.

“They know. They know if you miss a step. When I’m off, I come back in and they say, ‘I missed you,’ and that makes me feel good. That means a lot.”

James River vet

Bonnie King started with James River Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in 1996 (though she had a brief hiatus in 2000).

“Me as a CNA, it’s a calling for me. Every day I step in that door, I know that’s where I’m supposed to be,” she says.

She’s had dreams of attending nursing school and a desire to be an RN.

“At 61, I’m not saying it can’t be done, but it would be challenging,” she says. “As a CNA, I just enjoy it.”

Bonnie is a Senior Ambassador for VHS and helps train newcomers to the floor.

“You have to come in with an open heart and an open mind, and patience and respect,” she says she tells new hires. “And I think with those things working in this field, that would get you through it. … You have to have respect (for Residents and Team Members) and be willing to help.”

She says Virginia Health Services has been supportive from when she started through now.

“James River, on a personal level and on a professional level, they have always been there for me,” she says. “Once you show yourself as a worker, that means a lot to the company.”

Years of experience at Walter Reed

Karen Hudgins has been a CNA at Walter Reed Nursing and Rehabilitation Center since October 1979.

Portrait of Karen Hudgins
Karen Hudgins

“I like my work,” she says. “I love the stories (the Residents) tell.”

In her years at Walter Reed, she has cared for three individuals who survived concentration camps during the Holocaust. She’s learned about patents created by individuals in her care, and cared for a woman who wrote a book and signed it for Karen about her father’s time running steamboats.

“People forget that those people in the nursing center that did something that made a difference. ‘Cause you have to look at the real picture, you learn things about them that made a big difference in the world,” she says.

She works with another longtime Walter Reed CNA, Marva Hodges. Together, Hudgins says, they helped “break in” now Administrator Bryant Hudgins while he was an aide at Walter Reed.

Marva has been a CNA at Walter Reed for 39 years. “I always tell people, no, I didn’t come with the building,” she says with a laugh.

Portrait of Marva Hodges
Marva Hodges

She is a restorative aide part-time, but a majority of time, she says she’s on the floor because of staffing. She’s an Elite Ambassador, and has been a senior aide on the Ware unit, and was a nursing secretary and unit secretary. As an Elite Ambassador, she had to do the restorative program and trains Care Assistants and new Nurse Aides, and assists with orientation.

“I’m really a people person, not really a desk person,” she says. “I love the patients, I like being in the mix with them.”

Marva says she can go on any unit in the building and “pretty much anyone knows who I am, just by my eyes (because the mask covers so much of her face).”

Residents matter most

To keep going in this role so long, all three said the Residents keep them motivated.

“I just love old people, that’s all. You can learn so much from them. … You see their faces when their people come in, they light up,” Karen says.

When a new hire is being orientated, Karen offers these words of advice: “Just remember one thing: They’re real people. And they did make a difference.”

Be patient, Marva says.

“Realize who you are working with. I remind them that the patient may not be able to give complete information because of their (health conditions). Learn how to talk to them, keep them calm and figure out how to redirect them.”

Carrie says the main things are the Residents and working together as a team.

“If the atmosphere is happy, they’re happy,” she says.

Join our team

We are looking for CNAs to grow with us. Visit to apply for a satisfying career with our team.