Five VHS apprenticeship students graduate to Nurse Aides

Five apprentices and their three instructors

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.”


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