A Career with Caring at its Heart

November 30, 2017

Valley Health offers a hands-on training program for tomorrow’s nurse aides

Seven years ago, Susan Payne’s career soared in a rewarding new direction. A former administrative assistant, she signed up for Valley Health’s Certified Nurse Aide (CNA) Training Program at Warren Memorial Hospital in Front Royal. “I knew the course would give me the skills to get a new job, but it gave me so much more,” says Payne, 64, now a nurse aide at Winchester Medical Center. “Working as a CNA is my way of giving back for the wonderful hospice care my sister received before her death from cancer in 2010. Being a certified nurse aide has been an invaluable experience for me.”

She’s not alone. The program, which began in 1989, trains 80 to 100 nurse aides each year, according to Terry Shanks, RN, supervisor of nurse aide education for Valley Health System. “A nurse aide provides help with activities of daily living—such as grooming, bathing, dressing, and feeding—for a wide range of people from infants to the elderly and disabled,” she says. “Completing a training program, like the one at Valley Health, that meets state requirements, and passing a state certification exam opens doors to employment opportunities in hospitals, long-term care centers and beyond. Nurse aides are in demand.”

In accordance with the Virginia Board of Nursing requirements, the program includes a minimum of 80 hours of classroom training plus 40 hours of hands-on clinical experience in a long-term care facility (in this case, Warren Memorial Hospital’s Lynn Care Center). Training is in-depth and high quality. Classes include a virtual dementia tour, and training and awareness about the special health and care needs of aging and bariatric patients.

After successfully completing the course, graduates can take the Virginia State Certification Exam. “Our pass rate on the state exam is above the state average,” says nurse aide educator Penny Whitacre, BSN. “One recent class had a 100 percent pass rate.”

Nurse aide training is a smart stepping stone to other health careers. “We have CNAs whose ultimate goal is to become a nurse, physician assistant, or physical or respiratory therapist to name just a few,” Shanks notes. “Penny and I both started out as nurse aides. It’s a great foundation.”

No wonder, then, that the program attracts a wide range of students. “We have trained women and men from high school students to people in their 60s,” Shanks says. “For some, it’s a second career. Construction workers, corrections officers, chefs, salesmen, military veterans, and people entering the workforce for the first time or after taking time out for family have enrolled in the class. And the program is culturally diverse, with students from all over the world including Ghana, India, Russia, and the Philippines. What everyone shares is the desire to work in a job with caring at its heart.”

Payne says students become like family during trainings. “We helped each other learn our skills,” she says. “We shaved, washed feet, and learned how to turn and clean and make beds with people still in them! The instructors were dedicated to their profession and to us as they taught us how to take care of people.” Many stay in touch with Shanks and Whitacre. “Graduates call and visit almost every day,” Shanks says. “They bring their kids, ask questions about jobs—one graduate even brought us a homemade lunch recently. The caring never stops.”

The program is offered six to eight times each year, with a variety of scheduling choices, and accepts 20 students for most sessions. “Throughout the year we’ll usually have evening classes, daytime classes, a summer ‘boot camp,’ and even an intensive, one-day-a-week program that’s convenient for people who have to arrange child care or who work full time,” Shanks says. “We try to make it work for everyone.”

Upcoming sessions include evening classes Mondays through Thursdays from 4 to 8:30 pm from Oct. 10 to Dec. 12 (for this session, preadmission testing will be held Sept. 1 and registration is Sept. 15). Daytime classes are planned for early 2018, meeting Monday through Thursday in January and February, with preadmission testing Dec. 13, registration Dec. 20 and orientation Dec. 28.

For more information about CNA training, visit valleyhealthlink.com/CNA or call 540-636-0260.

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2017 issue of HealthLINK Magazine.