Workplace accident leads to career change

NANAIMO: Demand for health-care assistants grows as population ages.

Vancouver Island University students Chelsy McDavid and Randy Cooper practise new skills in a nursing simulation lab as part of their training to become health care assistants.

Vancouver Island University students Chelsy McDavid and Randy Cooper practise new skills in a nursing simulation lab as part of their training to become health care assistants.

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,” he said. “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.

He 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 provincial government proclaimed s Health Care Assistant Day in B.C. Oct. 18, 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, said VIU instructor Deb Denhoff.

“What you will be giving to the community in your new profession is a huge gift,” Denhoff told her students. “You will be providing seniors with loving care, helping them with tasks they can no longer perform themselves.

According to the B.C. government, there are 40,000 health-care assistants province-wide assisting seniors to remain independent as long as possible. They 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 instructor Denise Andersen. Most graduates find employment with the Vancouver Island Health Authority or its affiliates.

Andersen said the average age of nurses in B.C. is 50, and the profession will be 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.

Student Chelsy McDavid of Haida Gwaii took 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,” she said. “I noticed some of the seniors weren’t being treated well, and decided that I could make a difference.”

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,” he said. “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, Nov.7, 2012 from 6:30-8:30 p.m., in Bldg. 180, Rm. 134

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