Virginia Health Services recognized its third class of graduates from the Nurse Aide apprenticeship with a ceremony Wednesday at The Arbors at Port Warwick in Newport News.
VHS CEO and President Mark Klyczek delivered opening remarks, telling the graduates Virginia Health Services is “fortunate to grow our own CNAs. … You are at the end of your CNA training, but the beginning of your career. There are no limits” to where you can go next.
The 10 graduates were the largest class yet for the VHS program. The fourth cohort begins Aug. 3.
The earn-as-you-learn apprenticeship program trains Care Assistants to become Nurse Aides during a five-week instruction period. The apprentices are paid during their training time, and the program covers the cost of the certification exam to become a CNA.
Instructor Ann Armstrong taught one student at Walter Reed, Chad Hoffman.
“He had all eyes on him,” she said to the gathered friends and family at Wednesday’s ceremony, “and he did very well.”
The Newport News-based class came together as a team over the course of the 25 days of class and clinical instruction.
“I am happy to share everyone received an A,” instructor Nora Gillespie said. She teaches at VHS’ Employment, Enrichment and Education center in Newport News. Nine of the 10 graduates were in her class.
Graduates were Jami Brinson, Jessica Campbell, Chad Hoffman, Christine Johnson, Quedarica Jones, Tawandra Rawl, Dana Turner, Jessica Williams, salutatorian Devyn Hotop and valedictorian Shirley Weigle.
They are placed at York, The Newport, Coliseum, Northampton and Walter Reed nursing and rehabilitation centers to continue careers with Virginia Health Services.
The camaraderie and affection for one another was apparent throughout the ceremony, with barely a dry eye in the house by the end.
Weigle, in her valedictorian remarks, said that there were times in the course of being a Care Assistant, she considered quitting. She has nursing experience from her time in the Philippines, but has to be recertified in the U.S.
“There were days I would sit in my car and cry and think, why am I doing this? Then I said, no, I have dreams and I have goals,” she said.
Then she excelled in Gillespie’s class, earning top honors on tests, clinical skills and perfect attendance.
“I said thank you to Nora, she did it. And she said, no, you did it – you made it yourself” Weigle shared.
“I think we all did it. For the past month, I was with these eight beautiful girls. They shared their goals. They shared their dreams. I share this recognition with all of you.”
Gillespie awarded her entire class a “Heart Award” for the collective heart and compassion the students had for the Residents they worked with, and each other.
Surprise for Gillespie
The students surprised Gillespie at the end of the ceremony, walking back in with T-shirts designed with some of her more frequent sayings.
“You know more than you think you know.”
“I took a risk!”
“That’s cooler than dog’s lips!”
Gillespie, not one for being the center of attention, hugged the T-shirt they gave her, and shook her head.
She also was given a framed photo the students took with her before the ceremony.
As the students were putting the T-shirts on over their navy-blue scrubs, Director of Education Bryanna Rhodes shared a few words to recognize Gillespie, who always recognizes each student at the graduation ceremonies.
“She has been with VHS for 7 years, and I have had the privilege of working with her since December. When you look at the classes she’s taught, the hundreds of students she’s touched … It’s always amazing to me she can create a team out of a room full of strangers.”
Gillespie doesn’t shy away from telling the students – or their families and friends – that the class she teaches for five weeks is hard. She doesn’t shy away from telling them that working in long-term care is hard.
She lifts up their hard work and accomplishments and shares details about each student who survives “CNA bootcamp,” as she calls it.
When class began, she asked the students why they were there.
“You all said, ‘I want to take care of someone. … I enjoy being with the elderly.’ You don’t find that every day in a group,” Gillespie said.
“Every day after clinicals, you had a story to tell about something that made you smile. … You cared about your Residents.”
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.
Previous classes graduated in April and June. The program is unusual in that it pays participants for their training, and employs the students after graduation. Learn more about the program here.
Applications are accepted on a rolling basis. Apply here.