As a child, when I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I enthusiastically would respond, “a nurse.” Everyone I grew up around was working in some form of health care, but the person who impacted me the most was my grandmother, Betty Simmons Baines.
My grandmother is a retired geriatric licensed practical nurse and as the first-born grandchild, I spent a lot of time with her. I loved listening to her stories about her patients and the extraordinary lives that they lived. She was especially proud that she was the nurse for the mother of Pittsburgh native and famous entertainer Gene Kelly. Despite being one of the only African American nurses working for that facility, she loved her job, and they grew to love and respect her.
When I was asked to write this article as Lincoln Land Community College’s director of the new PATH (Pipeline for the Advancement of the Healthcare Workforce) program, and how it provides free nursing and health care training to support equity and diversity in these fields, I thought about my grandmother. I cannot imagine what it was like for her to go back to school in her 30s during the height of the Civil Rights Movement. It made me think about the barriers she faced, the doors she had to knock down and the ceilings she had to shatter to achieve her dream.
Her decision to go back to school impacted the lives of her four sons, their children and now her great-grandchildren, who are all current college students. Her grit and determination are what put me on the path to higher education and becoming a first-generation college graduate along with my cousin, the first in our family to obtain a masters-level degree.
My path started in 2004 when my husband and I decided we were tired of working small, dead-end jobs. When my husband was passed over for a management position, we decided we were going back to school. As much I wanted to be a nurse when I was a child, I quickly figured out nursing was not for me. I was taught that a health care career would ensure I would always have a job, so I started the surgical tech program at Richland Community College.
At the time, my husband and I had five children ranging in age from 1 to 10. My sister-in-law babysat while I was in school full time and my husband was at work, but eventually I put my two youngest children in daycare. Things got tough, and we could no longer afford the child care, our car needed major repairs, and I found myself having to drop my classes. I also had to go back to working yet another dead-end job.
Back then, a program like PATH would have been the answer to our prayers. It would have allowed me to successfully complete that surgical tech program, obtain my certificate and have a long-lived career in the health care field.
I eventually took another route in my education and had a career in social services. Now I find myself back working in health care, but this time, I’m assisting others to obtain a health care degree or certificate.
The PATH program, funded through an Illinois Community College Board grant, promotes equity and diversity by removing barriers, like I faced, so individuals may enter or advance in nursing and other health care careers. PATH provides free, short- and longer-term education/training programs to help participants gain employment in high-wage and in-demand health care occupations. Students receive support, including compensation to help cover basic costs while in training. This support includes free tuition, books and fees, a monthly stipend, rental assistance, child care assistance, transportation assistance, a loaner laptop and Wi-Fi hotspot, as well as tutoring, job readiness and placement services. The PATH program is committed to meeting the needs of students to lead them to a path of success.
Help us spread the word so deserving individuals can train for a steady and well-paying health care career, while helping to address the worker shortage in these fields. To learn more about the PATH program and eligibility requirements, visit www.llcc.edu/path or call me at 217-786-2847.
Roslyn Simmons-Lindsay is director of the Pipeline for the Advancement of the Healthcare Workforce program at Lincoln Land Community College.