Fifty years later, members of the very first Registered Nursing Assistant high school class have fond memories of their teachers and the tight-knit group they have been since they first started out in nursing.
Chatham-Kent Secondary School (CKSS) began the program in 1963 during grades 11 and 12, according to graduate Sharon Chapple, the first class of its kind in this area. Once the students finished the two-year science/technical course, they were eligible to write the Ontario College of Nurses registration exam and become an RNA.
The group re-united for the 50th anniversary of their 1965 graduating class in Chatham recently and were presented with congratulatory certificates from Chatham-Kent-Essex MPP Rick Nicholls, whose wife Dianne is part of the class.
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Chapple said of the 16 members of the original class, two dropped out, two have since passed away and three were unable to make it to the reunion.
A photo album with lots of pictures and mementoes belonging to Chapple showcased a group of women who become very close and maintained their friendships over the years.
Being able to take such a course in high school and come out of it with a career opportunity was great, according to Chapple.
“It was absolutely great. You had the friends you came up through school with but you also got to stay home and didn’t have the cost of going to college or university,” she explained. “We became like family.”
The lessons learned at CKSS were something Chapple feels instilled a high standard for nursing care.
“Both our teachers were excellent,” the nursing grad said. “For me, the greatest thing I learned was if you had any issues, you left them at the door and you were dedicated to the patient. That was truly reinforced.”
Over the past 50 years, since she got into hospital nursing in Chatham, Chapple said the job has changed.
“Now, there is not as much direct contact with the patient; it’s become so computerized and technical,” she said. “In my day, we wore our street clothes into the hospital and changed everything for our uniform. That (nursing) cap we put on stood for something. You walk in now and you’re not sure who anybody is.”
Chapple still has her cap and name badge from her school days tucked into her photo album, and said she would do it all over again “in a heartbeat” as she believes the classes really worked for the time. In fact, Chapple said she would like to see the return of vocation classes to our high schools.
“Not everyone can afford the debt of OSAP loans. I think it could be very beneficial,” she said.