Sixth Virginia Health Services apprenticeship cohort graduates

Virginia Health Services' sixth class of apprentices group photo

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.


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