Nurses helping others start grow their nursing careers

Victoria Parris, a manager for Ascension Medical Group Via Christi, thought she had found just the right person for an opening as a front-desk receptionist for the group's Wichita OB/GYN practice.

So she asked Recruiting to extend an offer to Amy Acuna, a part-time certified nurse assistant with whom Parris had worked in her previous role as the nurse manager for 8SE at Ascension Via Christi St. Francis.

But in processing Acuna's paperwork, there was a hitch: Although a high school diploma or GED is not a requirement for CNAs, it is a requirement for the position Parris was filling and Acuna had dropped out of school when she was expecting her first child. Now married and a 32-year-old mother of three children, ages 5, 9 and 16, she never pursued completing her education.

Parris could have rescinded the offer and started her search over. Instead, she told Acuna that she would hold it open for six weeks if she would immediately take steps to get her GED.

"Twenty-nine days later, Amy called to say that she had it and was ready to start work," says Parris. "She was so excited and so was I."

But the story doesn't end there as having a GED opened up a world of career possibilities for Acuna and Parris helped her explore them.

Acuna ultimately decided that she wanted to become a nurse, so Parris coached her through the process of applying for admission to the nursing programs at two community colleges.

"I really didn't know much about where to begin," says Acuna, who applied to two schools, was accepted by both and will begin classes at Cowley County Community College this Fall, making her the first in her family to attend community college. "I needed that support and she gave it to me."

In August, Acuna will begin working part-time as a medical assistant, which will allow her to be a full-time student.

"At first, I really didn't believe in myself," she says. "But having that support from Victoria, Ascension, and my husband and kids, has helped make it all possible."

Parris, who has been in her current role for less than a year, says working with Acuna has been a reminder of how blessed she was to have the support she needed when pursuing her nursing degree and that not everyone starts from the same place.

"Some people can walk up to a fence and see over it and other people need a stepstool," she says, an analogy she heard during a leadership presentation about equity vs. fairness. "We can't always make life fair, but we can help to make it more equitable for those we encounter along the way."

Lending a hand

Helping people chart their career path and where they might fit in Ascension hospitals' need for compassionate and committed caregivers is a full-time job for Shaunda Rakestraw, who serves as a Nursing Center of Excellence career coach for Ascension Via Christi's Kansas hospitals and clinics.

"It starts with our onboarding of new associates, letting them know that I am here as a resource to help get started in making their desired career a reality," says Rakestraw.

"We go to school and often think just about nursing at the bedside, but there are so many opportunities out there, whether that's specializing in certain areas of bedside care, developing into a nurse leader or managing a practice."

Rakestraw doesn't just work with nurses who are entering the profession. She also works with nurses looking to expand their skills or further their education so that they can explore further opportunities.

"It can be a maze trying to find your way through the myriad of possibilities for nurses today," says Rakestraw, who joined Ascension as an licensed practical nurse at what is now Ascension Medical Group Via Christi and eventually became a manager after earning her master's degree in Nursing. In December 2018, she moved to Ascension Via Christi St. Francis, where she served as program coordinator for Cardiovascular Services. The following year, she was offered the newly created position of career coach.

"And here I am," she says.

Rakestraw's help in mapping out a nursing career isn't limited to Ascension Via Christi associates or nurses. She also works with students who are or planning to become certified nursing assistants.

That's paid off for the hospital because she's been able to help graduate nurses and others find their fit within Ascension Via Christi.

"I recruited two just this last week," she says.

One was an EKG technician she knew from the clinic who had needed help getting into nursing school and will graduate this month and the other is a former clinic colleague who Rakestraw knew would be the ideal candidate for a palliative care opening that had just been posted.

"It is a lot of fun seeing other people succeed in their nursing career," says Rakestraw. "It certainly has supported me and provided multiple growth opportunities over the past 25 years."