Okanagan College to graduate hundreds of new Health Care Assistants through innovative provincial program

By College Relations | February 24, 2022

Shanise Scherk
Shanise Scherk outside the College’s new Health Sciences Centre

When 29-year-old Shanise Scherk graduates this month as a Health Care Assistant (HCA), she is excited to start caring for seniors and other clients living in their homes.

While working full time since high school, Scherk had always dreamed of having a career in health care. So, when she learned about a new Okanagan College program that offered paid training and work experience to become an HCA, she jumped at the chance to follow that dream.

“It was such an incredible opportunity to receive an education and get hired right away,” says Scherk, who has accepted a position with Interior Health.

“I love making people smile, feel heard and listened to and important in that moment, and I look forward to doing that in my career as a Health Care Assistant.”

HCAs, or care aides, are one of several frontline health-care positions that were under strain before the pandemic only to be exacerbated over the last two years.

Seeing an urgent need for more HCAs to support long-term care, assisted living and home care settings, the B.C. government created the Health Care Access Program (HCAP) program. The program allows qualified applicants to start in a health care support worker position and receive paid training that leads to full qualification as an HCA.

Scherk completed her HCA education in OC’s state-of-the-art Health Sciences Centre, located on the Kelowna campus.

“I feel honoured to be part of the first to experience this program. The Centre is amazing and we had great instructors and access to technology,” says Scherk.

Okanagan College received funding for an additional 210 HCA students this year through HCAP and another 210 students for next year. These extra seats are on top of the College’s regular HCA programming resulting in more than 650 Health Care Assistants graduating in the next two years.

“The HCAP program is a very innovative approach to filling a significant need in our communities,” says Cathy Farrow, Chair of OC's HCA program.

Farrow credits the B.C. government for coming up with a model that allows people who may not be able to afford quitting their work for full-time school a viable alternative.

Farrow adds that HCAP is an example of Okanagan College responding quickly to community needs. The new program nearly doubles the capacity of the College's HCA programming and is a mix of online and in-person with cohorts running throughout the Okanagan to attract people from a range of geographical areas.

Danni Ritchey

In addition to filling a community need, HCAP offers an entry point for students who may continue on to more complex nursing roles. Danni Ritchey is graduating from HCAP but has plans to return to school and become a Practical Nurse after a year of working in home support.

“The Health Care Assistant program sets me up to be an amazing nurse. You have more bedside care and client-centred skills before entering nursing,” says Ritchey, who is 20 years old and also hired by Interior Health to provide community care.

Ritchey says she is passionate about helping seniors live independently longer, a role that pays its own rewards by seeing the gratitude her clients express from helping with even the smallest of tasks.

Ritchey knows first-hand how a simple gesture can change a person’s outlook. She underwent surgery at four years old and remembers a nurse steadfastly holding her hand.

“I want to be that hand for someone else,” recalls Ritchey.

Yvonne Moritz, OC’s interim Dean of Health and Social Development, says she is proud of all the upcoming HCA graduates.

“It's been very inspiring to see the graduates apply their knowledge and skills that they learned. They are an incredibly caring and committed group of students and I have every confidence they will be excellent caregivers to the people they’re supporting.”

The Okanagan College Foundation is inviting the public to help them reach their fundraising goal to complete and equip the new Health Sciences Centre and continue educating critical frontline health-care professionals. To learn more, click here.

To learn more about HCAP, click here.

To explore OC’s Health Care Assistant Certificate, visit this link.

Tags: Health Care Assistant, Health and Social Development, Health Sciences Centre, OC Foundation, Inside OC



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