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VCU Health CMH Employees Take Advantage of Education Assistance Program

Sheree Smith, CCMA, BS and Gabriel Restrepo, CRNA, DNAP

In mid-summer, the last thing you want to think about is school! But for some employees at VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital (VCU Health CMH) college is front of mind. Some are just starting out to further their education, some are taking graduate-level courses and some have just graduated.

One of the big benefits of being employed at a teaching hospital is the emphasis on life-long learning. Part-time or full-time VCU Health employees with benefits who have been employed for at least one year and are maintaining a grade of C or better for undergraduate courses, and B or higher for graduate level courses, are eligible for tuition assistance. They may receive between $3,750-$15,000, depending on the degree and status, and may choose from 200 colleges and universities. Dependent children under age 23 get 6-12 credits per year at VCU depending on part-time or full-time parental status.

In 2010, The Institute of Medicine issued “The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health,” recommending the nursing profession increase the number of nurses with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing to 80 percent. VCU Health CMH nurses are currently at 47 percent working toward this goal.

Vice President of Patient Care Services Mary Hardin, MSN, RN, OCN, NE-BC, said, “We are very proud of the number of nurses advancing their careers, putting our patients first with the most up-to-date information available.”

Fifty-six active VCU Health CMH employees in fiscal year 2021 took advantage of education assistance. They are pursuing the following degrees:

Associate: 6
Bachelors: 32
Masters: 13
Doctor: 4
Grad Certificate: 1

In the past five years, 123 team members furthered their education through this program.

VCU Health CMH Employee 2021 Graduates:

Sarah Fox, Laboratory: Master’s Degree in Health Sciences with a concentration in Healthcare Administration from University of Texas Rio Grande Valley
Sheree Smith, CMHP Admin: Bachelor’s Degree in Interdisciplinary Studies from Liberty University
Gabriel Restrepo, Anesthesia: Doctor of Nurse Anesthesia Practice from Virginia Commonwealth University
Theresa Griles, Education: Master of Science in Nursing with a focus in Nursing Education from Chamberlain University
Amy Harrup, Obstetrics: Master’s Degree in Nursing with focus of Family Nurse Practitioner from Simmons University
Kathryn Spence, Acute Care: Master’s Degree in Nursing Administration from Liberty University
Elizabeth Bowlin, Emergency Department: Master’s Degree in Nursing Practice from Chamberlain University
Stephanie Dorman, Emergency Department: Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing from Chamberlain University
Gabrielle Spainhour, Acute Care Physical Therapy: Bachelor’s degree in Health Sciences from Radford University Carilion
Victoria Kelly, Acute Care: Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing from Chamberlain University
Jenny Reine-Baskett, Education: Associates in Applied Science for Occupational Therapy Asst., St. Catherine’s University
Amanda Stone, Emergency Department: Associate’s Degree in Physical Therapy Assistant from ECPI University
Magen Long, Operating Room: Bachelor's Degree in Healthcare Administration from Purdue University Global
Macey Mills, Cardiopulmonary Rehab Department: Master's Degree in Healthcare Administration with a concentration in Human Resources from Liberty University
Brittany Dolan, Emergency Room: Bachelor of Science in Nursing from James Madison University – August
Francesca Hayes, Emergency Department: Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing from Western Governors University - September
Shena Alston, Recovery Room/PACU/ASU: Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing from Western Governors University – October
Lisa Graham, Radiation Oncology: Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Chamberlain University – fall

Sheree Smith, CCMA, BS

Sheree Smith, of Brodnax, is a Certified Clinical Medical Assistant at CMH Dermatology. She just graduated in May from Liberty University with a Bachelor of Science in Interdisciplinary Studies with concentrations in Health Science and Business Management. Working full-time and going to school full-time, she managed to get financial aid to cover most of her coursework. She had one class to finish last semester, and because she wasn’t a full-time student at that point, she didn’t qualify for financial aid, so she took advantage of tuition assistance for her last class.

“The process was so easy; it was all online and everything was approved the next day,” Sheree said.

That schedule sounds crazy but add into the mix a first grader with online school during a pandemic.

“I was very disciplined as far as time management was concerned. I had a set schedule set aside for helping my son with schoolwork and time allotted for my own schoolwork. I could not have done this without having such great family support. Last but definitely not least, all praises to my God for guiding me and giving me the strength to help me achieve my goal.”

With this accomplishment under her belt, Sheree is not finished. She’s already enrolled in the Master’s in Healthcare Administration program (MHA) for the fall of 2021 with Liberty University.

“I pride myself in being flexible and adaptable. Therefore, I am very open to whatever opportunities the future may hold, especially within VCU Health CMH. Once I gain additional experience, my goal is to progress from a clinical position to management. I think the best way of planning for the future is to make the most of the present.”

Gabriel Restrepo, CRNA, DNAP

Gabriel Restrepo, of Chesterfield, is a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist who just graduated in May from Virginia Commonwealth University with a Doctor of Nurse Anesthesia Practice degree. He first heard about VCU when he was at the University of Maryland, Baltimore. He attended the annual anesthesia conferences and VCU always had a booth set up at the events.

“Education assistance made it possible for me to further my education,” Gabriel said. “I am still paying for previous student loans, and it would have been really difficult financially to pull it off. I wouldn’t have been able to pursue this degree without it.”

Living an hour away, Gabriel commuted daily to South Hill, including hours on call, and commuted to Richmond for classes.

“It took a lot of work to make it happen,” Gabriel explained. “I had to give up a lot of personal time.”

Pursing a degree is a very personal decision.

“You have to want it and have a passion for it,” Gabriel said. “It’s the only way to get through it. You have to have the discipline and desire and then you can achieve anything.”

Gabriel’s already noticed a difference in his professional life. The doctoral program goes into policy making, ethics, quality improvement and patient safety on a much more in-depth level.

“My training has changed how I practice,” said Gabriel. “I approach patient assessments differently; I have more awareness and my communication with other professionals has improved. Now that I have time, I want to be more involved, so I plan to join new committees to implement what I have learned.”

Gabriel works with students on their clinical rotations and loves teaching.

“In a few years I can see myself transitioning to an academic level,” he said.