Learning experience

Elyssa Weber, 18, a student in Warren Memorial Hospital's Nurse Aide Training Program, checks the blood pressure of Lynn Care Center resident JIm Trott while nurse educator Julie Dellinger looks on. Rich Cooley/Daily

FRONT ROYAL — All of the nurse educators with Valley Health’s Nurse Aide Training Program are registered nurses, but they didn’t start that way. When they entered the health care field, each one started as a nurse aide.

The program at Warren Memorial Hospital in Front Royal has trained thousands of nurse aides since 1989, but organizers say the program is still relatively unknown to area residents and even to other health care professionals.

LeAnn Albert, an RN and education assistant with Valley Health, worked in Winchester for several years before learning about the program.

But its impact on the community has been growing, and Nurse Educator Julie Dellinger said the need for nurse aides around the country is even greater.

“It’s huge,” she said. “Nurse aides will never, never, never go out of business.”

Nurse aide student Katie Reedy, 21, of Maurertown, puts a pair of socks on the feet of Latreasure Robinson, of Front Royal, inside the emergency room. Rich Cooley/Daily

Dellinger was in Boston, Massachusetts, attending school for occupational therapy when her mother suggested she take a nurse aide course as a way of learning more about nursing.

“And I knew the first week that this is exactly where I wanted to go,” Dellinger said.

“So this is a good opportunity for people. You know, it might be six or eight weeks of their lives, but they’ll know after this class whether they want to go into health care or not.”

Nurse aides in training learn the basics of health care, including cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and those trained at Warren Memorial will train on the job to perform echocardiogram tests and blood sugar tests.

Those who graduated Dec. 18 also experienced Ebola hospital drills for admitting patients exhibiting symptoms of contagious diseases. In the women’s care unit, they welcomed several newborns, including one addicted to drugs.

“It’s a very intense course,” Dellinger said, “but it’s very successful.”

Offering six main classes each year, usually about five hours a day Monday through Thursday for eight weeks, the program now includes fast track courses, night classes, a summer boot camp and a longer one day a week class on Thursdays.

All courses offer the same curriculum and 120 hours of experience, Albert said.

“[The Thursday course] will be a longer class, but that way they can still work, provide for their families, keep their job,” said Albert.

“It’s hard for single parents, or even people who are trying to make a change for themselves, to quit their job and go to school for a month and a half or two months and not have an income,” she said.

The $850 tuition includes a textbook and workbook, and two full-reimbursement scholarships are available to students of each course who volunteer 25 hours in the health care field.

Students age 16 and older who pass a background check are welcome to apply.

Identical twins Elyssa and Trinity Weber, both freshmen at Lord Fairfax Community College, joined to gain experience toward careers in nursing.

“It’s good,” said Elyssa Weber, 18. “It’s interesting.”

“A lot of my friends just say they want to go into nursing, but they don’t try it out first,” she said. “So I figured, why not do the CNA program, get my foot in the door, see if I like it, work a little bit and then go to school, see if that’s what I want to do.”

Dellinger agreed it was a good plan: “It will help her get into the nursing program hands down.”

Most useful for those entering the health care field, the classes also help others in related fields like education, social work or child care gain skills to aid them in working in public or private settings.

Now that she’s CPR certified, Weber said she feels more confident at her part-time job in a daycare center.

“And I feel better going out into the community being CPR certified also, in case something were to happen,” she said.

Being certified as a nurse aide will not expedite a degree program, Dellinger said, and it earns health care workers about a fourth of what they could make later as RNs. But it provides invaluable experience for students who plan to take more health courses. Plus, it makes them more attractive to employers, Dellinger said.

“This course will put them into a career.”

Contact Terry Shanks at 540-636-0260 for more information.

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com