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 vahs.com/careers 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.

Valedictorians

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 vahs.com/careers. 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.

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.

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.

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 Ward 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 vahs.com/careers to apply for a satisfying career with our team.

12 VHS apprentices graduate to Nurse Aides

Twelve Care Assistants/Temporary Nurse Aides graduated to Nurse Aides on Friday in Styron Square at Port Warwick in Newport News.

The two classes were taught at the Virginia Health Services Education Center (EEE) and James River Nursing and Rehabilitation Center by instructors Princess Henderson and Nora Gillespie.

The graduates are all participants in the apprenticeship program. The earn-as-you-learn program has transitioned to a hybrid classroom and on-the-floor experience. Our apprentices are employed by VHS and are placed at our nursing and rehabilitation centers. The cost of their certification exam to be a CNA is covered by the program.

The James River graduates are: Faith Barich (valedictorian), Tyonna Braxton, Triniti Brown, Emani Greene, Armoni Hendley, Josie Jayne (salutatorian) and Dynesha Redmond.

The EEE graduates are: Jazmyn George, Koreen Hill (valedictorian), Kaitlyn Mayo (salutatorian), Charles Richardson and Andrea Wright.

Congratulations to all of our graduates! We are glad to have you on the team!

Become an apprentice

Virginia Health Services offers an earn-as-you-learn apprenticeship program that graduates Care Assistants to Nurse Aides. It includes classroom and on-the-floor training and covers the cost of the certification exam. The next class is slated to start Aug. 1, so be on the lookout for the job posting in late June. To apply, visit vahs.com/careers.

TNAs get hands-on training before pairing with mentors

It’s not every day you get to practice using machinery on an instructor. But one recent afternoon, that’s exactly what two newly hired Temporary Nurse Aides (TNAs) got to do while going through their 20-hour training courses at Virginia Health Services’ EEE Center.

The trainees were paired up with two seasoned VHS Certified Nurse Aides (CNAs) as they lifted instructor Nora Gillespie out of bed, into a wheelchair and then back into bed. The training was done at the Employment, Enrichment and Education (EEE) Center in Newport News, where Virginia Health Services onboards and trains new employees.

The hands-on experience allowed the TNAs to ask questions, experience the equipment and see how to avoid pitfalls, such as accidentally letting a patient’s head or legs bang into the lift.

“If you let my feet hit there,” Nora said, pointing to the equipment’s base while swinging in the sling during the transfer lesson, “I have fragile skin, I bruise. And I’m going to let you know it.”

“It’s why this takes two people,” Erica Donaldson said. She has been with Virginia Health Services for 21 years and is a CNA at Northampton Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. She also is now a Senior Ambassador, which means she will help oversee TNAs at her facility for two weeks before they acquire a full patient load.

Students and Ambassadors listen to instructor Nora Gillespie, seated in a wheelchair in the center, as they learn to lift her back into the bed using a large piece of equipment.
Instructor Nora Gillespie, center, works with (clockwise) Koreen Hill, Erica Donaldson, Olympia Stephens and Tracy Moore during a recent training sessions at Virginia Health Services’ EEE Center in the Port Warwick area of Newport News.

Ambassador program

Erica was working with fellow Senior Ambassador Tracy Moore, who is a CNA James River Nursing and Rehabilitation Center and has been with VHS for 24 years.

The Ambassador program was launched to reward seniority and help develop training and communication within the facilities and across VHS.

Erica and Tracy were helping Nora train Olympia Stephens and Koreen Hill. Olympia will join Erica at Northampton and Koreen will join the team at Coliseum Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.

“I love what we’re learning,” Koreen said.

Nora said the program has given long-time CNAs a chance to see what new hires are learning, which can better prepare them to train them on the floor and what areas to work with them on to improve their skills.

“It’s good when the staff comes in to participate and give their insight,” she said.

Transition to apprenticeship program

To help fill staff vacancies at nursing home facilities in Virginia, then-Gov. Ralph Northam allowed the hiring of Temporary Nurse Aides.

The goal is to get new hires trained and on the floor quickly, in addition to providing them with a facility mentor who will help shepherd new hires into the apprenticeship program. The earn-as-you learn apprenticeship covers the cost of a five-week training course that develops Care Assistants to Nurse Aides. The program also covers the cost of the certification exam to be a CNA.

The 20-hour training program is “intense and condensed,” Nora said.

She says Virginia Health Services is showing through the program that it is investing to help the facilities staff properly. The TNAs are a “tremendous advantage,” she said. It’s also a stepping stone for the full CNA apprenticeship class.

“It’s a win-win,” Nora said.

Visit our Careers page and apply for the Care Assistant program today to join Virginia Health Services and be part of a team where training and experience are valued.

Seventh Virginia Health Services apprenticeship cohort graduates

The seventh cohort of Virginia Health Services apprentices graduated Friday at The Arbors Independent Living community. The group began its earn-as-you-learn training program in January.

The program includes classroom and clinical instruction to graduate Care Assistants to Nurse Aides.

Friday’s eight graduates will work in Virginia Health Services nursing and rehabilitation centers at York, Northampton, Coliseum and James River.

The VHS education staff will help schedule review sessions and certification exams for them to become CNAs.

Virginia Health Services graduates group photo in The Arbors dining room. The eight students are pictured with instructor Princess Henderson.
Instructor Princess Henderson congratulates the seventh cohort of apprentices for graduating the program. It was Henderson’s first solo class.

This was instructor Princess Henderson’s first full-time class. Henderson transitioned from Assistant Director of Nursing at Coliseum to a trainer and coordinator role on the education team for Virginia Health Services.

Virginia Health Services President and CEO Mark Klyczek opened Friday’s graduation.

“This is just a start in a career in healthcare for you,” he told the graduates. “There are opportunities within healthcare and within VHS for you to grow, to grow for yourselves and your families. Take advantage of those opportunities.”

The graduates

The eight graduates were members of Henderson’s first solo class. Instructor Nora Gillespie co-taught a few days during the session, telling the graduates: “Personally, I was impressed in just a few days with you.”

Valedictorian dressed in navy scrubs shakes hands with VP of Nursing and VHS CEO.
Valedictorian Courtney Sands is congratulated by Vice President of Nursing Rebecca Boyd and CEO Mark Klyczek.

Henderson introduced each graduate and they were awarded certificates of completion. The graduates are: Fatiqah Atkins, Dasha’ Diggs, Sabita Khadka, Laurinda Palmer-Yearby, Courtney Sands (valedictorian) Shontay Screven, Melissa Tanner and Valentina Zakieva (salutatorian).

Palmer-Yearby received Henderson’s “Heart Award,” given to the student who showed the most improvement throughout the class. Tanner was the recipient of the “Clinical Award” because of her positivity on the floor and being the only apprentice serving on one of James River’s units.

Henderson called Zakieva her “ball of energy. None of us moved fast enough for you!”

And while Sands was quiet, Henderson said you knew she was paying attention because she got the highest grades in the class.

“I want to thank my classmates for all the team work we had and wish everyone success in their future,” Sands said in her brief valedictorian speech.

“This class was difficult to get going because of COVID and snowstorms,” Henderson said. “It was my first solo class. I couldn’t have asked for a more supportive, wonderful group.

“I’m so proud of you all.”

What’s next

The graduates were joined by family members and friends for the ceremony and reception afterward. There were lots of hugs and congratulations shared over cake.

The apprentices will begin next week as Nurse Aides in their respective nursing and rehabilitation centers.

“They’ll enhance our staffing,” Gillespie said.

The class celebrated their graduation over cake with family and friends at The Arbors Independent Living in Newport News.

Virginia Health Services apprenticeship program

The VHS earn-as-you-learn apprenticeship program is part of the Healthcare Apprenticeship Extension Program, which is partially funded by a grant from the Department of Labor.

The apprenticeship program covers the cost of the course and clinical work, and the cost of the exam. The program is expanding to include pathways in dietary and housekeeping.

Previous cohorts graduated in AprilJuneJulySeptember, October and December.

Learn more about the program here.

Apply for our Care Assistant positions and more on our Careers page.

Sixth Virginia Health Services apprenticeship cohort graduates

The sixth cohort of Virginia Health Services apprentices graduated Tuesday at The Arbors at Port Warwick. The group began its earn-as-you-learn training program in early November.

The program includes classroom and clinical instruction to graduate Care Assistants to Nurse Aides.

Tuesday’s eight graduates will work in Virginia Health Services nursing and rehabilitation centers at York and Northampton.

The education staff will help schedule review sessions and certification exams for them to become CNAs.

It was instructor Nora Gillespie’s last full-time CNA class. She is working with instructor Princess Henderson on transitioning teaching responsibilities.

“You guys are sending me off on the best possible note,” she told the graduates.

Nikkya Cohens delivers her valedictorian remarks with the support of her classmates and instructor Nora Gillespie

Nikkya Cohens delivers her valedictorian remarks with the support of her classmates and instructor Nora Gillespie.

The graduates

Gillespie, as she has for the previous five graduations, spoke in superlatives about the students to friends and family in attendance.

She told the graduates she is proud of them, and that they demonstrated to her they have a willingness to do what it takes in the role.

“These women had each other’s backs,” she said. “They helped each other get across the finish line.”

Gillespie called valedictorian Nikkya Cohens a “role model” in awarding her a certificate.

“I’ve never met a bunch of women that allow me to be me. Women can be challenging to be around in large numbers and they were not that. They were supportive and extremely funny and that’s a value I always cherish. They ooze camaraderie in every sense of the word. Their spirit stays with me after class,” Cohens said in her valedictorian remarks.

Brittany Hodges gets a hug from instructor Nora Gillespie during the graduation ceremony Dec. 7, 2021.

Brittany Hodges gets a hug from instructor Nora Gillespie during the graduation ceremony Dec. 7, 2021.

VHS Vice President of Operations Don Lundin delivered opening remarks, saying Virginia Health Services is glad to be a part of their education and career journeys.

“This is the beginning, the first step,” he said.

Gillespie, who has likened the program to “CNA bootcamp,” explained that there are 14 tests and 22 skills the students learn over the five-week span.

“You nailed 22 skills,” she told the graduates, “and I couldn’t be more proud.”

She calls CNAs the foundation of long-term care. Their role means they interact most with Residents and are the eyes and ears for the nursing staff on the floor.

“To do the job, you have to heart and compassion,” she said. The students’ “first intent was to bring joy when you entered a Resident’s room.”

The class could be found wiping their eyes any number of times during the ceremony.

“I always make people cry,” Gillespie said.

The graduates were: Cohens, salutatorian Josie Wood, Giavanni Bailey, Brittany Hodges, Quentisha Norvell, Hope Overton, Shayla Shupin and Tomeka Williams.

“You can change a life, you can touch a life,” Gillespie said.

VHS apprenticeship program

The VHS earn-as-you-learn apprenticeship program is part of the Healthcare Apprenticeship Extension Program, which is partially funded by a grant from the Department of Labor.

Apprenticeship students are brought on as Care Assistants and spend about 30 days working in a VHS nursing and rehabilitation center before coursework and clinicals begin. Following completion of the classes, students then return to work at a facility and undergo review sessions to prepare for the state certification exam to become a Certified Nurse Assistant (CNA).

The apprenticeship program covers the cost of the course and clinical work, and the cost of the exam. It also provides the benefit of Family Scholarship House, which can offer resources and funds to help cover academic coaching, affordable housing, transportation, child care, emergencies and more. It is available to those in the HAEP grant program at no additional cost.

The VHS apprenticeship program recently expanded to include pathways in dietary and housekeeping.

Previous cohorts graduated in AprilJuneJuly, September and October.

Learn more about the program here.

Applications to the program are accepted on a rolling basis. To apply, visit our job listing.

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 vahs.com/heroes.

Virginia Health Services CNA apprenticeship program adds instructor

Virginia Health Services’ apprenticeship program, which graduates Care Assistants to eventual Certified Nurse Assistants (CNAs), is undergoing a transition in instructors.

The VHS education team is adding instructor Princess Henderson, who has been with the company since 2008.

She is being guided on the ins and outs of the apprenticeship class by instructor Nora Gillespie, who after a career in nursing and education, is retiring.

Well, semi-retiring. Gillespie says she’ll be focused on education for VHS two days a week.

Ann Armstrong, who instructed the apprenticeship classes on the Middle Peninsula, also is leaving. She joins Rappahannock Community College as an instructor for their Nurse Aide program and will lead instruction for their clinical LPN and RN programs.

That means she won’t be far – the LPN and RN programs train at VHS’s Walter Reed Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Gloucester.

The coursework was revamped earlier this year by Gillespie and Armstrong based on the state’s criterium changes. Gillespie refers to it as a “bootcamp.”

The students have to go through pages of presentations, tests and learn 22 clinical skills, such as how to take blood pressure and wound care.

The fifth apprenticeship class is slated to graduate Oct. 26, with the sixth class to start Nov. 1. It will be the last group of apprentices for the year – another class is slated to start in January.

This class

Armstrong’s final day with VHS was Oct. 14. Her students in this fifth cohort completed their coursework and clinicals, working while awaiting graduation.

The 11 students enrolled at Walter Reed and at the EEE Center in Newport News will work as Nurse Aides at James River, Coliseum and Walter Reed while completing their certification exam reviews to become CNAs.

Ann Armstrong had three students in her class at Walter Reed

Virginia Health Services’ fifth cohort of CNA apprentices graduates Oct. 26, 2021. There were three students at Walter Reed Convalescent and Rehabilitation Center in this cohort.

“They’ve been great,” Armstrong said of her three students. “I’ve learned a lot from them, that’s for sure.”

Teaching is getting to know someone. “I wanted them to succeed, and they have,” Armstrong said.

“It’s amazing to see when someone comes here with no (clinical) knowledge, then they leave this classroom with the skills. Amazing to see someone learn; to see that lightbulb go off.”

Armstrong has been a nurse for 23 years, and an instructor since 2017. She joined VHS about a year ago from Riverside.

Her advice to students, current and future: “Study. Be open. Healthcare is ever changing. Be open to change. Do the right thing every time. You do that, you cannot make a mistake.”

Teaching the course during the COVID-19 pandemic has meant adjusting, Gillespie said. Infection prevention is covered on the first day, and that now includes emphasis on COVID and the proper way to wear the additional layers of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

Students are tested regularly and encouraged to be vaccinated. They come into class with familiarity, having learned to navigate the precautions in their buildings while working the floor as Care Assistants.

The future

The sixth class will be led by Henderson.

Henderson has been with VHS since 2008, and she took the course then while pregnant to become a CNA.

“It’s a lot different!” she said.

Princess Henderson is learning how to teach the apprenticeship class

Princess Henderson is learning how to teach the apprenticeship class from instructor Nora Gillespie. Virginia Health Services’ fifth cohort of CNA apprentices graduates Oct. 26, 2021.

“The program has evolved. It’s come out of the ‘Dark Ages.’ It’s so much better and easier to understand. … I did it back when you had to pay for the class.”

How the course material is presented and how clinical skills are taught are “more effective,” Henderson said.

“She’s a role model,” Gillespie said.

Henderson became an RN, moving up through the ranks with Virginia Health Services to become Assistant Director of Nursing at Coliseum. Her career has been dedicated to long-term care with VHS. She worked at James River and the team worked with her as she went through nursing school to help schedule her shifts with her classes.

“I’m glad to be with VHS,” she said. “They really worked with me, and I plan to stay with them as they work with me to meet my goals.”

One of those goals has been to go into education. She views Gillespie as the role model.

“I strive to be as inspirational and firm as her,” Henderson said. “Firm but fair.”

“My goal truly is for her is not to need me, because then I’ve done my job,” Gillespie said.

Words of wisdom

While Henderson’s addition is a win for the education team, the departures of Gillespie and Armstrong sting.

They built out the current program with Director of Education Bryanna Rhodes earlier this year, and both have been instructors for several years.

“I can tell them a whole bunch of stuff,” Armstrong said of teaching students information off PowerPoint slides, “But I also can give them the real-life experience. … People can relate better when you make it reality.”

While Armstrong handled teaching in-services and more at Riverside, Gillespie helped her feel at ease with the material when she joined Virginia Health Services.

“Nora is a great instructor, she’s the real deal,” Armstrong said. “She’s awesome at what she does. I hate to see her go. She is one of the best instructors I have ever seen teach this class.”

But Gillespie is ready to retire – if for no other reason than to not have to wake up at 4:30 a.m.

She says that with a grin, though. Gillespie became a nurse in the 1970s. She worked in critical and acute care, including on a Nightingale air ambulance.

“That was the best,” she said. “I still have my combat boots.”

Gillespie said she is content passing the torch to Henderson.

“In my career, I know I have saved lives. In teaching, I know I have touched lives. And I am good with that,” she said.

Part of her hand-off to Henderson is helping her understand all that is involved in teaching the class – its organization, flow, schedule and timing.

It’s also helping her learn to be an instructor, looking for that spark to ignite someone to learn a skill or grasp material. It’s helping Henderson feel comfortable on being flexible to the needs of the class and being able to adjust to help students “get it.”

Gillespie has spent seven years teaching this class. “It’s a part of me,” she said. “The program is very important to me, and I see tremendous benefit in this program. VHS is committed to it.”

“Princess shares my desire to bring out the best of students,” Gillespie said. “Princess is open, friendly, she has a smile that lights up a room and a grasp of what to do.”

Henderson appreciates having Gillespie train her.

“She’s involving me in the class and has had me do tasks to get me ready. It’s been a lot of organization, learning how to keep up with their records. Then it all comes back around to developing relationships with the students and show them how to bring what they’ve learned to how it applies to their patients.”

Instructor Nora Gillespie is congratulated by the fourth class of graduates

Instructor Nora Gillespie is congratulated by the fourth class of graduates during a ceremony in September.

Retirement, for real this time

Gillespie has threatened to retire for about a year, but had difficulty stepping away from the class she has taught for seven years and helped revamp.

Her students recognize her impact. The two previous apprenticeship classes honored her at graduation ceremonies with T-shirts of her best phrases, a retirement banner and gifts — so many meaningful gifts, such as a framed selfie she let them photograph her in.

She says she doesn’t know how to be any other way, in how she teaches and how she treats others.

“You need to bring joy,” Gillespie tells students. “You see individuals when their bodies have betrayed them. You have to treat them with respect and dignity. Being kind should not be hard.”

She’s at peace with the timing of her retirement this time.

“I can walk away with a smile on my face.”

VHS apprenticeship program

The apprenticeship program is a great opportunity, Armstrong said.

“They’re getting paid to learn. That’s a huge incentive.”

There have been more than 40 enrollees in the apprenticeship program since its launch in March. The VHS earn-as-you-learn apprenticeship program is part of the Healthcare Apprenticeship Extension Program, which is partially funded by a grant from the Department of Labor.

Apprenticeship students are brought on as Care Assistants and spend about 30 days working in a VHS nursing and rehabilitation center before coursework and clinicals begin. Following completion of the classes, students then return to work at a facility and undergo review sessions to prepare for the state certification exam to become a Certified Nurse Assistant (CNA).

The apprenticeship program covers the cost of the course and clinical work, and the cost of the exam. It also provides the benefit of Family Scholarship House, which can offer resources and funds to help cover academic coaching, affordable housing, transportation, child care, emergencies and more. It is available to those in the HAEP grant program at no additional cost.

The VHS apprenticeship program has plans to expand, including pathways for LPNs, and in pharmaceutical, dietary, housekeeping, and administration and leadership.

Previous cohorts graduated in AprilJune, July and September.

Learn more about the program here.

Applications to the program are accepted on a rolling basis. To apply, visit our job listing.

Virginia Health Services offers education staff and resources to help develop nursing careers

This week, Virginia Health Services honors Nursing Professional Development Week.

Virginia Health Services has a long history of encouraging development of its team members and promoting from within. View our job opportunities, and know that development is a priority at VHS.

The education team at VHS offers a variety of services to its nursing staff.

Director of Team Member Engagement Kathryn Fisher also can help connect team members to assistance, scholarship opportunities and nursing programs that offer discounts to VHS employees.

The investment in development of our nursing professionals at Virginia Health Services extends beyond our earn-as-you-learn apprenticeship program.

A cornerstone program at the Education, Enrichment, Employment (EEE) Center in Port Warwick, the HAEP apprenticeship offers Care Assistants paid training to graduate to Nurse Aides. The apprenticeship also covers the cost of the certification exam.

It includes wrap-around services through Family Scholar House, which can offer resources and funds to help cover academic coaching, affordable housing, transportation, child care, emergencies and more. It is offered to those in the HAEP grant program at no additional charge throughout the course of the year of their apprenticeship.

VHS Director of Education Bryanna Rhodes said the team at the EEE offers review sessions before Nurse Aide certification exams, which include a written test and mock skills assessments.

In-house development opportunities

Nora Gillespie and Bryanna Rhodes hug during remarks at the July apprenticeship graduation ceremony.

Nora Gillespie and Bryanna Rhodes hug during remarks at the July apprenticeship graduation ceremony.

The education team also can offer prep assistance for individuals in a RN program by request.

The team also offers knowledge-based in-services and addresses pressure areas in facilities, such as setting up IV labs, PPE demos and other training. CPR certification training is offered at EEE.

The education team also is the first group to try out new equipment and deliver training.

It also welcomes new employees at orientation.

Get started

In pursuing a nursing pathway, Rhodes said talking to the education team is a “good starting point.”

The team can help with school selection and get the process going.

Cerissa Atkins, VHS Process Improvement Manager, said being prepared and setting a timeline is key. “Don’t delay,” she said of starting the process. Deciding where to go, finding financial assistance and applying takes time.

Rhodes said often the VHS facilities’ schedulers will help accommodate school schedules and be flexible with individuals on development pathways.

“The passion has to be there to work in long-term care,” Atkins said.

Pathways

There are several pathways that can lead to increased salary and professional satisfaction.

Starting as a CNA can develop into a nursing career as a RN or LPN, an educator or a long-term care facility administrator.

Fisher can help individuals manage VHS’ tuition assistance and reimbursement policies, research scholarship opportunities and connect individuals with schools that might be a good fit and/or offer discounted tuition to VHS team members.

“VHS has the flexibility to believe in you,” Rhodes said.

Rhodes joined VHS in December as an educator after working six years as an acute care nurse in an emergency room. She was promoted to director of education a few months after starting.

“You can really grow in a family-centered environment at VHS,” Atkins said.