Rising through the health care ranks

UVM Health Network leads local nurse up career ladder

From a young age, Ryan Martin knew he wanted to work in health care, but it wasn’t until he joined his local emergency medical services crew in Williston that his interest in nursing took shape. There, as the youngest member of his crew, he discovered he had a knack for working with children.

“I quickly realized that what I really wanted to do was become a pediatric nurse. I was just looking for a way to get my foot in the door and build up my patient care experience,” said Martin.

This led him to UVM Health Network – Home Health & Hospice, where he joined as an intake specialist in June of 2019, processing referrals for the organization’s physical therapy, occupational therapy and rehabilitation programs.

By October, Martin had enrolled in the Licensed Nursing Assistant (LNA) Training Program at University of Vermont Medical Center, a move encouraged by his supervisors. The five-week, full-time course prepares students to practice as nursing assistants through a combination of classroom, lab and clinical practice.

“From the beginning, the people at Home Health & Hospice were really supportive of my career development and made sure that I had the time and space I needed to pursue my nursing education and get into a patient-centered role,” Martin said. “It was a huge weight off my shoulders.”

In recent years, connecting young professionals with the LNA program has become a key part of Home Health & Hospice’s strategy to bolster its ranks of trained nursing staff. The organization pays employees to attend the class and sit for their LNA certification exams, provided they agree to stay on as a home health LNA for one year after their certification.

“Becoming an adult home health LNA is a great stepping stone for anyone looking to become a licensed practical nurse (LPN) or registered nurse (RN) because they use the broadest scope of their LNA license,” said Sarah Rogers-Spaulding, a physical therapist and Martin’s LNA supervisor at Home Health & Hospice. “There is a lot of autonomy in home health, so it really builds a lot of confidence in your skills.”

After certifying as a LNA, Martin stayed on with Home Health & Hospice for 18 months. He traveled all over Chittenden and Grand Isle counties to provide home health care, assisting people with showering and dressing, caring for their wounds or providing ostomy care. Most of his regular patients were people suffering from chronic medical issues such as spinal cord injuries, paralysis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or heart failure. Later, Martin worked with a number of patients in hospice care.

“Whether it’s working in home health care, hospice or pediatrics, it’s such a privilege to work with people at such a vulnerable stage in their life,” he says. “I developed a lot of really close relationships with patients who didn’t have family … I found it incredibly rewarding to not only be a source of support for them, but also to advocate for them in the health system.”

The work prepared him for what was to come in his nursing career. 

“It gave me a solid foundation in patient care, helping me to learn my bedside manner and how to manage the different relationships and challenging situations you encounter in person-to-person care. It gave me a lot of confidence,” he said. “Looking back, it really molded me into the type of nurse I wanted to be.”

Working as an LNA also enabled Martin to continue his education and take one step closer to becoming a pediatric nurse. In August 2020, in the thick of the pandemic, Martin enrolled in Vermont Technical College’s LPN program. Over the next 10 months, he split his time between his studies and his work as an LNA, a task made manageable through close communication and flexible scheduling with his supervisors at Home Health & Hospice.

The hard work paid off. Martin recently joined the UVM Medical Center’s Pediatric Primary Care unit as an LPN. 

“Between my LNA experience and LPN education, I feel well prepared to step into this role, and I love it,” he said. “I feel really lucky to be working with our pediatric specialties — such as the trans youth clinic — because I find those patient experiences to be particularly rewarding and gratifying.”

Meanwhile, Martin is not letting up on his nursing education. He is currently pursuing his associate’s degree in nursing and plans to go on to become a nurse practitioner in pediatrics. For the moment, his focus remains on providing pediatric care, but he doesn’t rule out a return to home health in the future, particularly if it means working with kids again.

“Ultimately, what’s most important to me is that I continue learning, practicing and giving back to Vermont communities as much as I can.”

This article was provided by the University of Vermont Medical Center.

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