Nurse training program is a 'gift'
When the nine students training to become licensed practical nurses (LPNs) at Windemere Nursing and Rehabilitation Center talk about their tuition-free, on-Island education program, they invariably use the words "gift" and "opportunity."
As they recently reached the halfway point in the successful new 10-month LPN program, Windemere administrators already are planning for another class next September and want to get the word out to the Island community that they are seeking new applicants.
Those interested in applying to the LPN program must act quickly, as they will be required to take a practical nurse entrance exam. The registration deadline is February 29 for the next exam on March 8 at Upper Cape Cod Regional Technical School (UCCRTS).
"We have nine people who are going to be LPNs who never would have been able to do that," said Windemere administrator Ken Chisholm. "It's wonderful to be able to provide a gift to good people on the Vineyard that couldn't afford to go off-Island to further their education."
In recent interviews during a lunch break in their Windemere classroom, several of the students, who range in age from 21 to 56, spoke enthusiastically and appreciatively about what the nursing program means to them.
Gail Stevenson, who works as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) at the hospital, said although she knew she wanted to go into nursing, educational expenses presented a major obstacle. Taking a course two days a week off-Island would cost her about $3,000 in travel expenses alone, she figured.
"I can't say enough how grateful I am to have this program on the Island," Ms. Stevenson said. "Besides having the school here, not having to travel is huge - it's time-consuming, expensive and exhausting - this is just such an incredible opportunity."
Several of the students, particularly those with children, said until now, they had to put education goals aside because of their many responsibilities.
"I jumped at this opportunity because I always wanted to do nursing and couldn't go off-Island because of family and work," said Melissa Pelletier, a mother of three children who has worked as a CNA at Windemere since 1995. "I'm very pleased with the class - this is the best thing that ever happened to this Island."
Nina Gomez Gordon, who works as a CNA at the hospital, agreed. "I have two kids at home, and I can't imagine going off-Island for school and juggling everything as a single Mom," she said.
For Dan deBettencourt, Windemere's LPN program came along just at the right time. He had decided on a career change to nursing, and at the same time, he and his wife Jessica were considering moving from North Carolina to the Vineyard, where he has family.
He saw an ad online about Windemere's LPN program, took the practical nurse exam in North Carolina, applied to the program and was accepted.
Mr. deBettencourt works per diem at Windemere as a custodian and at the hospital as a nurse's aide. As the class's only male, he pointed out, "It's a great program - but we need more guys."
The program provides a common bond for students Susan Kaeka, a CNA at Windemere, and her daughter Alene Peterson, who works per diem at Windemere as a housekeeper. Ms. Peterson said after taking a few college courses and not knowing what she wanted to do, her mother's interest in nursing and enrollment in the LPN program inspired her to do the same.
The LPN program at Windemere is funded in part by a $104,974 workforce training fund grant received last year through the Massachusetts Department of Workforce Development. Mr. Chisholm and workforce training fund program field supervisor Michael Corcoran worked together to find a way to bring training to the Island to reduce the nursing home's reliance on LPNs brought over from off-Island, to offer educational advancement for employees unable to travel to the mainland, and to provide a nursing career path for Island high school graduates who want to remain on the Vineyard.
Funded by fees paid by businesses into the state unemployment insurance program, the workforce training fund provides matching grants of up to $250,000 to finance incumbent worker training.
As part of the grant's match requirement, Windemere pays the housing costs for the nursing instructor, maintains benefits for the students, and provides paid time off for them from their jobs at the nursing home and hospital to attend classes.
Although the majority of the nine students currently in the Windemere nursing program are CNAs, that is not a prerequisite for applicants. All of the students work part-time or per diem at Windemere or Martha's Vineyard Hospital, which makes them eligible for free tuition if they commit to work two years at either institution once they become LPNs.
However, the program also is open to applicants who are not employed at the nursing home or hospital, and tuition for those students costs about $10,000, Mr. Chisholm said.
"We've made a commitment to do the program again next year and need a minimum of 10 students," Mr. Chisholm said. Windemere has applied for another one-year grant, he added, and even if the grant does not come through for next fall, the nursing home and hospital are committed to the LPN program and will pay employees' tuition.
The LPN program at Windemere is offered through the practical nurse program run by director Pat Gales at UCCRTS in Bourne and follows a September to June schedule.
Deb Herlihy, the school's Vineyard instructor, is a registered nurse with over 30 years of experience. Although she and her husband live in Plymouth, she was willing to live and work on the Vineyard during the week and go home on weekends. "I've been so blessed," she says about her experience, adding, "I'm going to come back next year."
In addition to classroom instruction in areas such as medical-surgical, maternal, child, and community health nursing, students complete clinical rotations at Martha's Vineyard Hospital, Windemere, and Island doctors' offices, and go off-Island for training at the Rehabilitation Hospital of the Cape and Islands, New Bedford Rehab Hospital, and Jordan Hospital. They are reimbursed for their expenses and receive paid time off from work while completing clinical hours off-Island.
There are only 17 practical nursing programs in Massachusetts, Ms. Herlihy noted. She said she hopes that anyone interested in nursing, including high school students, will take advantage of Windemere's program, which offers a great career path for becoming an LPN in 10 months and then a registered nurse by taking courses online. Even for those who are not hospital or nursing home employees, the Island's LPN program is a bargain, Ms. Herlihy said.
Anyone interested in applying should sign up by Feb. 29 to take a practical nurse exam on March 8 from 8 am to 12:30 pm at UCCRTS. The fee is $80.
Call Susan Markwica, assistant director of Human Resources at Martha's Vineyard Hospital at 508-693-0410, ext. 216 or email her at email@example.com about picking up an application for the exam and for more information about Windemere's LPN program.
"You don't need a lot of preparation for the exam - maybe study up on math a little bit, particularly fractions and decimals," Ms. Herlihy said.
There is a Test of Essential Academic Skills Pre-Test Study Manual available for $35 at www.atitesting.com as well as practice tests on the website for an additional fee.
Contact Nancy Taddia, secretary for the UCCRTS Practical Nurse Program, at 508-539-2770, ext. 277, with any further questions or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org