Suzanne Thomas

After going back to school at Columbia Gorge Community College through WorkSource, Suzanne Thomas now works as a certified nursing assistant at Mid-Columbia Medical Center.

When Suzanne Thomas was laid off from her position as an in-home caregiver, she really didn’t know what she was going to do. Being in her 50s, it almost felt too late to start over or go back to school. However, as a single woman, she knew she needed to make ends meet somehow.

Thomas started looking into WorkSource with Columbia Gorge Community College and found a program where they would pay for students to get a certificate to become a Certified Nursing Assistant. Interested but uncertain, she reached out to Mike Scroggs, a career adviser at CGCC, to figure out what her options were.

“He explained the program to me,” Thomas said. “And I was thinking, ‘Do I want to be a CNA?’ and I realize, ‘Yeah, actually, I do.’ Because I just felt like that’s kind of my calling in life, because I love taking care of people.”

Thomas’ journey through the program wasn’t easy. Her first term, fall term 2019, her CNA 1 class was cancelled last minute. She took a phlebotomy class instead, with the understanding she would take the class in spring of 2020.

Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, which made things more difficult. Suddenly, Thomas was expected to do online classes for something that is normally completely in person, and to use programs she had never dealt with before.

“I can get around the computer a little bit, but not like schooling-wise,” Thomas said. “I was trying to figure it all out. I almost felt like I was kicking walls down. It was such a struggle for me, but, you know, I just spent time… asking questions and getting help. I was like, ‘I am going to push through this, and I’m going to get this done.’”

And get it done, she did. After taking her CNA 1 class in spring and then her CNA 2 class the next fall, she had earned the proper licenses and certification to get a job as a CNA. And sure enough, as of March, Suzanne was the newest CNA at Mid-Columbia Medical Center in The Dalles.

The job offered her full benefits, which was something she didn’t have at her previous job, but also allowed her to do something she absolutely loved. Caring for others had always been a theme in her life, and being able to put that to use outside of the in-home care she used to do was great, she said.

“My mom took me to nursing homes when I was young,” Thomas said. “She used to volunteer and I’ve just always had a heart for that and caring for people. Caring for people in general is a big part of me. I just feel like that is my calling.”

There was a learning curve. Thomas found herself working three 12-hour shifts a week in the midst of a global pandemic. Even so, she said the staff at MCMC made the transition a lot easier.

“I work with some amazing nurses,” Thomas said. “I’m just really happy where I’m at right now. I really enjoy my job, and I’m super thankful for the program that I went through.”

Going through WorkSource, and having unemployment because of the pandemic, made it a lot more manageable to pay for school, Thomas said. It almost felt like everything happened at just the right time to make it possible for her to go back to school and get the certification she needed.

“For this [being laid off] to happen to me, later on in life, it’s like you’re thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, what am I going to do?’’ she said. “But this was perfect. It was perfect timing. And it was a perfect fit for me.”