Sheila Ford has found her calling in helping others.
The 54-year-old Charlottesville woman is a certified nurse’s aide working the night shift at Martha Jefferson Hospital.
Ford became a CNA through the hospital’s community outreach program, which provides scholarships to 10 people each year who want to go into the medical field.
“Some people see nurse’s aides as people who just clean up the bed pans,” Ford said. “But I know that it’s a lot more detailed than doing that and that’s why I’m not ashamed to be a CNA. I’m very proud because I get a chance to interact with patients.”
A scholarship, valued at more than $1,000, pays for enrollment, books and fees for a 10-week program teaching students how to be CNAs. A certified nurse’s aide provides direct care to patients in hospitals and nursing homes.
Jackie Martin, director of community outreach for the hospital, said the CNA scholarship program was created in 2009 as a workforce initiative and has been successful.
“Martha Jefferson had the goal of putting great CNAs out in the community,” Martin said. “There was a need and still is a need in the community for CNAs and the hospital always looks for ways to be a good community resource. And, at the time, the hospital needed good CNAs too.”
Ford is the second graduate of the program to go to work at MJH. Other graduates from the program have found jobs in other places around town, Martin said.
“We looked for people like Sheila when we were setting up our classes,” Martin said. “We looked for customer services skills and a commitment to finish the program because we have to show outcomes to continue it.”
So far, the hospital has sponsored 26 scholarships and is recruiting 10 more for a program that begins in June.
More than 80 people have shown interest in the program this year, Martin said. The deadline to apply for the program is Tuesday.
Genevieve Gipson, director of the National Network of Career Nursing Assistants, said CNAs are in high demand nationally as baby boomers age and the need for health care increases.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts the job outlook for CNAs is strong and will grow faster than average in the coming years.
“There is a definite need for CNAs nationally,” Gipson said. “Part of our organization’s goal is to make sure they receive proper training and have the tools they need to be successful.”
Martha Jefferson’s scholarship program for CNAs is contingent on need and funding, Martin said. Hospital officials will meet next year to decide if there is still a need for more CNAs in the community.
But for Ford, the class has led her back to a career path she always knew she wanted to take.
She hopes to one day be a nurse.
“You build a personal relationship with patients,” Ford said. “I’ve always had a knack for older people. I’m a people person and I’ve always loved being around older people. I love my job.”
For more information about the scholarship program for CNAs, call Martha Jefferson Hospital Health Connection at 654-7009.