It was a day that held special meaning for Kelowna’s Stephanie Shuttleworth, who is poised to graduate from the College’s Health Care Assistant (HCA) certificate program early next year.
Tuesday, Oct. 18, marked Health Care Assistant Day in B.C. – a day for acknowledging the hard work and dedication of the province’s frontline care providers.
For Shuttleworth, walking across the stage and graduating will mean the chance to finally step into a career in health care she has dreamed about for years.
“I volunteered in hospitals a lot when I was younger, so this is a career I’ve always wanted,” explains Shuttleworth. “A number of my friends completed the program and got jobs right away, so I felt confident it was the right choice for my future.”
In addition to the strong job prospects, students like Shuttleworth have another reason to feel good about their choice to invest in an education in health care at Okanagan College. The HCA program recently received the highest accreditation possible by the province.
Earlier this year, the College’s HCA program received a full five-year recognition status from the BC Care Aide & Community Health Worker Registry (CACHWR), the provincial body that oversees registration of HCAs in B.C.
“The program already has a great reputation and so it feels good as a student knowing that we have this feather in our cap when we’re approaching employers,” notes Shuttleworth.
While registration with CACHWR is not mandatory for HCAs working in the private sector, registration is required for any HCA wishing to work in a public health care setting in B.C. It also gives graduates a competitive edge, says Angela Godler, Chair of the HCA program at the College.
“The registry itself is fairly new and this is the first time they have conducted a full examination of our program,” explains Godler. “We are very proud, although not entirely surprised, to receive the highest level of accreditation, given our close adherence to provincially-approved curriculum, our experienced instructors and our close consultation with industry. We are constantly speaking with local employers to stay attuned to their needs, and to trends in the field.”
And with an aging population and many current HCAs approaching retirement age, it is a field in need of replenishment. The B.C. Skills for Jobs Blueprint, released in 2014, listed Health Care Assistants as one of the top priority health professions in need of new workers over the next decade.
“When choosing a program, it is very important to complete a recognized HCA program so that you can be registered to work as an HCA in B.C.,” says Godler. “This accreditation will make the registration process smooth for our graduates, so they can start working as soon as possible—great news for them given the demand for HCAs right now.”
The HCA program at Okanagan College is 25 weeks in length and includes a combination of theory classes and an eight-week clinical practicum, covering areas of complex care, home support/assisted living and dementia care, and acute care.
The program seems to be working for Okanagan College students.
According to recent B.C. Student Outcomes data, 92 per cent of graduates reported the program was very useful in getting a job, while 97 per cent were in the labour force making an average hourly wage of $19.
Last year, one of the College’s HCA graduates was honoured by W. Brett Wilson, well-known Canadian entrepreneur, philanthropist and “Dragon Emeritus” from the CBC show Dragons’ Den, for a project that saw her delivering art and music therapy to residents in complex care situations. Penticton’s Catherine Links was awarded the inaugural W. Brett Wilson Prize, a scholarship launched in Wilson’s name for Okanagan College students after the philanthropist gave a talk at College’s Kelowna campus in January 2015.