Shianne Ferrell and Tiffany Watkins

Innovating to Hire Nursing Assistants Is a Win-Win

Thursday, June 22, 2023 |
This spring Bayhealth welcomed two new certified nursing assistants (CNAs) to the staff, thanks to the Earn While You Learn workforce development program. Both CNAs now work at Sussex Campus — Shianne Ferrell in the Rehab Unit, and Tiffany Watkins in Acuity Adaptable.

Launched in February, Earn While You Learn is the brainchild of staff members from two Bayhealth departments — Marketing and Communications and Human Resources — who sought a solution to address staffing shortages in key areas of the organization. Through the program, Polytech Adult Education phlebotomy students and Sussex Tech Adult Education phlebotomy, medical assistant, and CNA students who agree to commit to Bayhealth for two years after graduation receive a tuition-free education and an hourly stipend while attending class and clinicals.

Angeline Dewey and Staci Manning, who collaborated to manage the initial hiring and placement of CNAs at Bayhealth, are believers in the program’s approach, especially given the demand for CNAs.

“We have to meet people where they are,” said Angeline Dewey, MSN, RN, APRN, ACNS-BC, CCRN-K, CNRN, Senior Director of Clinical Practice and Professional Development, Bayhealth Hospital, Kent and Sussex Campuses. “We can’t keep doing things the way we always have,” she added. “We have to go to [people interested in healthcare training].”

Dewey emphasized that those already seeking out training at the local tech schools are more likely the very people who would make ideal Bayhealth employees.

“If they have the Bayhealth core values and passion for patient care, they are the perfect candidates for our open positions,” she said, noting that a CNA role is hard work, but very rewarding.

While tapping the Earn While You Learn program to find the right people to join the staff as CNAs, Bayhealth also opens up new paths for individual growth in healthcare.

Staci Manning, BSN, RN, ONC, knows firsthand the value of CNA training and placement in terms of career advancement. Now Senior Nurse Manager, Kent and Sussex House Supervision and Float Pool, she started her career in healthcare at Bayhealth as a CNA.

“A lot of employees are grateful for the opportunity to be a CNA because it gives them experience needed as they further their education,” said Manning.

She stressed the value of the Earn While You Learn model, since it’s difficult for some who want to get CNA training to do so without financial help.

New staff member Tiffany Watkins agreed.

Having previously worked as an assistant store manager in retail, Watkins decided to pursue her passion of healthcare. But the time commitment of nursing school was prohibitive – it would have been difficult to have time to work while enrolled in a program. So, instead she earned her CNA certification through the Earn While You Learn program.

It was a win-win.

“Becoming a CNA is a way to get into nursing – to gain exposure, get experience under my belt, and take the next step toward an RN degree,” Watkins said.

And, the program solved her need to earn money while going to school.

“Being able to have some income made it a lot easier,” she noted. “I was able to focus and study all the new terminology, so I felt confident throughout the entire course.”

So, what’s it like for her as a CNA at Bayhealth?

“It’s been great. Every day has been a different day,” said Watkins, adding that her coworkers have been very helpful. “They are patient and informative. They take time to explain things to me.”

And she has found the work fulfilling.

“Being able to help people, being compassionate toward families and their needs, getting patients home — it’s been rewarding.”

She’s seeing how important teamwork is to what she and her fellow caregivers can accomplish.

“It’s quite a team effort. The nurses tell the assistants what their needs are to help [patients]. Everybody helps each other.”

Manning said that many Bayhealth nurse leaders are asking to have more CNAs from the Earn While You Learn program on their units. The good news is that several more candidates have interviewed with Bayhealth and are currently enrolled in the program. And, after three weeks of training (including clinical experience), they will arrive for their first day on staff.

Learn more about the Earn While You Learn program and how to enroll.

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