NANAIMO, BC - Randy Cooper worked as a carpenter until a workplace accident in June 2011 changed everything.
“A saw kicked back and cut off most of my left thumb,” said Cooper. “Now I have difficulty operating power tools.”
That’s why Cooper is launching a career change. Instead of working with wood, he’ll assist seniors.
Cooper is one of 32 students enrolled in Vancouver Island University’s Health Care Assistant program. Seven weeks into the program, he couldn’t be happier.
“It’s been 23 years since I’ve attended school,” said the father of two. “I find it intellectually stimulating and gratifying to learn something new. My kids, especially my son who just started kindergarten, think it’s cool Dad is going to school.”
The BC Government proclaimed Thursday, Oct. 18 as Health Care Assistant Day in BC, and Cooper celebrated with students and instructors at VIU.
Health Care Assistant refers to several positions including Community Health Workers, Residential Care Aides, Home Support Workers, Long Term Care Aides, Continuing Care Assistants and Personal Care Aides, explained VIU instructor Deb Denhoff.
“What you will be giving to the community in your new profession is a huge gift,” she told students. “You will be providing seniors with loving care; helping them with tasks they can no longer perform themselves.
“These are seniors who have contributed to make the world a place we all enjoy. Consider it an honour to be stepping into a profession where you can assist them.”
According to the BC government, there are 40,000 Health Care Assistants province-wide assisting seniors to remain independent as long as possible. Health Care Assistants provide 24-hour professional care and supervision to seniors in supportive environments, including private homes, public care facilities and hospitals.
There is a 100 percent job placement for graduates who complete VIU’s 24-week program, said VIU instructor Denise Andersen. Most graduates find employment with the Vancouver Island Health Authority or affiliates.
Andersen said the average age of nurses in BC is 50. “The nursing profession will get hit hard with retirements. The demand for trained HCA’s will only go up due to the aging population and continual growth of health care services,” she said.
Cooper, who coped with seasonal layoffs as a carpenter, said it’s reassuring to know there will be no shortage of work in the health care field.
Carol Stuart, VIU’s Dean of Health and Human Services, and Andrea Smilski, Associate Dean, thanked students at Thursday’s celebration for deciding to become Health Care Assistants.
“The work you will be doing in the community is critical,” said Stuart. “Without you, the system wouldn’t work.”
Smilski called it a “noble profession”, adding that Health Care Assistant Day is a perfect time to recognize students who have committed to making a positive impact in the lives of seniors and others who require care.
“There are days when it will be a thankless job,” she said. “But you have made a decision to drop everything in your lives, to come to school and train for this profession. You should be commended for that decision and we wish you every success for a rewarding career.”
Student Chelsy McDavid of Haida Gwaii is taking the HCA program on the advice of her parents.
“I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, so I volunteered at the hospital in Charlotte while finishing grade 12. I noticed some of the seniors weren’t being treated well, and decided that I could make a difference.”
Student Julie Birkitt often visited her grandfather in a local care facility. “I saw seniors who seemed isolated and alone, never receiving visitors to my knowledge, or having lost most of their family and friends over time,” she said. “I want to be a part of their daily routine and assist them.”
Mandy Weisbrod, 47, is also taking the program to launch a career change. “I have been an office administrator and worked in retail for years,” she said. “Being a Health Care Assistant appeals to me because my mother was diagnosed with vascular dementia in 2003. She’s been living in long term care facility since 2009.
“I have the upmost respect for health care workers. When I saw how important they are to my mom and my family, I knew I wanted a new career in this rewarding field.”
To others in the community who may be considering a career change, Cooper said, “Don’t be afraid to try something new. I thought going back to school would be a challenge. It is challenging, but I’m so proud of myself for having the confidence to try. My self-esteem has never been greater.”
VIU’s 24-week Health Care Assistant program is offered at the Nanaimo, Cowichan and Powell River campuses. A free program information session will be held Wednesday, November 7, 2012 from 6:30 to 8:30 pm, in Building 180, Room 134 (first floor lecture theatre).
For more information, go to www.viu.ca/calendar/Health/healthcareassistant.asp