A collaboration of partners helps working nurse assistants learn to become nurses

HOPEWELL — A new program, in the works between Finger Lakes Community College and various partners for several years, came to fruition last week with the first graduates crossing the stage to receive licensed practical nurse certificates from President Robert Nye.

The class of 21, all certified nurse assistants striving to advance in the heath care field, worked very hard through the last year, making many sacrifices on their road to becoming a nurse, a quest that will be completed when they pass the national exam for LPN certification.

“The challenges that we face sometimes have taught me that rough patches in life in can be sewn together to create a beautiful quilt,” said Candice Bailey, one of the two student speakers and the first to get her certificate of completion. “The support and encouragement of classmates like you, along with family and friends, has helped me to blend the fabrics of those patches. Even though there were trials — and some errors — I would not have wanted to be standing here any other way.”

Another graduate, Joaquin Yawn, put things simply.

“We're LPNs now,” he said. “Let's take it to the top, everybody. Differentiating between medications and full-body assessments, I think we do anything in the world now.”

Marcia Lynch, FLCC's director of workforce development, explained the CNA to LPN class is different from other training programs because the students go to school part-time and work part-time — 20 hours each — while receiving a stipend to compensate for wages lost by not working full-time.

“Many of these students would not have otherwise had the opportunity to advance in the field because of lost wages, the cost of tuition and family obligations,” Lynch said. “This collaboration is transforming lives, and is a crucial step toward meeting the growing demand for health care workers.”

Most of the graduates are from Rochester, but included Ginny Hudson of Palmyra, Kathleen Palmer of Newark and Kim Potter of Marion, who worked as a nurse assistant for 33 years.

“I am grateful to have been part of the program,” said Hudson. “This program has allowed me to grow as a person in knowledge and patience in dealing with all aspects of my life.”

Nye focused on the changes, struggles and teamwork the group pushed through for the opportunity to go “bigger and better and higher” to make a greater difference for families and their communities.

“This is a wonderful day for you,” he told a packed auditorium. “You've done a wonderful job. I wish you the best of luck as you move on.”

Catherine Chabrier of Rochester Regional Health recalled talking with Lynch about four years ago how to get employees the support they needed to be trained LPNs and still afford to live while going to school.

Tuition and income support were provided by Rochester Regional Health, RochesterWorks!, Finger Lakes Works and a $6 million federal Department of Labor grant.

“Remember that first pep talk?” Lynch asked the graduate candidates, waiting to be pinned. “Everybody was like 'We can't do this' and I said, 'Yes, you can.' I assured you you would be successful and I was right.”

She told them to be proud of their accomplishment and the new skills and knowledge they have acquired.

Gloria Morgan, director of academic affairs at The College at Brockport, another partner, talked about graduating from a community college as a first generation college student in her family and how she kept going, earning advanced degrees, up to a doctorate of education from St. John Fisher College.

“What I'm saying to you is this is a semicolon in your professional journey,” she said. “Keep going. It's not a period, but a semicolon — a slight pause — because you're going to extend to a higher order of thinking and professionalism now, once you pass that inquest.”

Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, an alumnus of FLCC, mentioned how the health care field has grown by more than 22 percent — growth he said he expects to continue. He also talked about his personal experiences accessing area health care, saying the doctors were great, but that every patient really depends on nurses.

“You have, I believe, the toughest job because you spend the most time with the patients,” he added. "It is a calling, and I really congratulate each and every one of you for your dedication and hard work. I'm sure it hasn't been easy.”

The students were selected from about 90 program applicants, all employees of Rochester Regional Health.

According to the New York State Department of Labor, the median CNA salary is $35,580 while an LPN's median wage is $47,420.