Climbing the Career Ladder

By Jeremy Smerd

Mar. 23, 2007

Dina Marie LaMarche, a certified nursing assistant in Massachusetts, dropped out of high school and found work preparing food in a nursing home. Now she is training to become a licensed practical nurse by 2008 and doesn’t plan to stop until she is a registered nurse.

    “I just want to keep climbing that ladder,” she says.

    With already severe shortages in nursing predicted to grow as baby boomers retire, LaMarche has found herself in the right industry at the right time. The Department of Health and Human Services says the country will be short 1 million nurses by 2020. That means workers with little expertise, experience or education—new Americans, recently laid-off workers looking for a second career or someone like LaMarche—are finding training opportunities and jobs in nursing. Most training is funded at the national and state level, but occurs locally though community groups and colleges. In one case, LaMarche found that her employer, Sun Healthcare, was willing to provide her training and pay for it in order to retain staff.

    LaMarche, 33, began her march up the pay scale 12 years ago. At that time, she was working at a nursing home preparing meals for residents when she decided to become a certified nursing assistant. She took classes through the American Red Cross, completed her general equivalency degree and became a certified nursing assistant in three months.

    For the past eight years, LaMarche has worked for SunBridge Care and Rehabilitation, a long-term rehabilitation facility in Lawrence, Massachusetts, owned by Irvine, California-based Sun Healthcare. Since 2004, she has taken night classes offered through her employer and taught by teachers from nearby Northern Essex Community College.

    Like most of her co-workers, LaMarche says she was not aware that local and national funding existed to develop workforces in industries, like nursing, where shortages are acute. It wasn’t until her employer posted a notice near the company’s time clocks that she learned she could take evening classes at work with her co-workers. A single mother with three children, LaMarche found that the schedule suited her needs.

    “I had wanted to go to school before, but going to school full time wasn’t in my schedule,” she says.

    Under discussion at Sun Healthcare is a plan to provide advanced nursing education in exchange for a commitment from employees to work for the company for approximately two years, says spokeswoman Bernadette Bell. LaMarche says she would be willing to make that commitment to pursue her goal of becoming a registered nurse.

    LaMarche works two jobs—both as nursing assistants—to make ends meet, but she hopes that will change as she advances in her career. She will become a licensed practical nurse, a job that entails caring for the sick, injured, convalescent and disabled under the direction of physicians and registered nurses, by 2008. Then she will take more classes to become a registered nurse.

    “Right now, what they’re doing for us is just a blessing,” she says, referring to Sun Healthcare’s efforts to train her. “Really, it’s an opportunity.”

Jeremy Smerd writes for Crain’s New York Business, a sister publication of Workforce Management.

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