Health Occupations Program Thriving

In the midst of a pandemic, more healthcare workers need than ever

Source: Lavelle Architects
by madison osborne, staff writer

Ellen Barry, known as Ms. Barry to students, is sitting in her wheely chair smiling even through the mask. The room is filled with quiet laughter as she does her round of student check-ins, with students quietly practicing their patient questions, including “How are you today?”, “Is this okay?” and “Does it hurt anywhere?”

Everyone in the classroom is smiling, not the fake ones you sometimes get by nurses and doctors, but real ones. The kind you get when you’re around Ms. Barry.

When asked how Ms. Barry sees herself, she said, “I guess I see myself as every child’s grandmother, it’s the way I want to interact with my class, always with a lot of love and caring and for my students to understand that each and every one of them is important to me.”

All of her students can say that it’s the truth, students come back year after year just to talk with Ms. Barry because of her very nurturing personality. It’s why she makes such a good teacher, according to her students.

Barry was the same way with her patients, after she went to Southern Maine Community College (SMCC) where she majored in nursing, Barry went into hospice nursing, doing years at one care center. 

Going into work before the sun rose and coming home well after dark most days, Barry was a favorite with most of the patients and staff. In fact, according to Barry, one patient she had taken care of had wanted their ashes divided up and some given to her. The patient was bed-bound and was almost fully paralyzed, and the bond the two had was unwavering. 

Barry does the same with all of her students, taking the time in each class to make sure every student feels comfortable with what they’re learning and being in the classroom. 

Barry came to Sanford Regional Technical Center (SRTC) four years ago after her previous workplace created intolerable working conditions. Barry’s neighbor knew what had happened with her previous job and saw how disappointed she was. In conversation, it was brought up that SRTC was looking for a Health Occupations teacher and Barry ended up being the perfect fit.

Barry’s Health Occupations Program, in which students aim to achieve their Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) licenses, has been one of the more popular SRTC programs at SHS, for Sanford students and those who come from sending schools.

Barry shares that this program is only for serious applicants looking to pursue a career in healthcare and that there have always been more kids who apply than there are seats in the classroom. She reviews every application, then interviews and handpicks who she believes is the best fit.

The Maine State Board of Nursing sets high requirements for the students to meet in order to achieve their CNA license. Some of these requirements include 90 hours of bookwork, 40 hours of lab and 40 hours of clinical work. Once all of that is done, they have to take a 100 question exam and pass in order to get their license.

But out of all Barry’s jobs, teaching is the one for her. “I’m truly finding that being in the classroom is just as challenging as nursing and even more rewarding.”

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