This story was written for WRAL TechWire Innovator partner Johnston Community College.

SMITHFIELD — Every day, either in an email or phone call, Connie Grady is asked to recommend a health care student, particularly nurse aide students. As the director of Health Education and Nurse Aide Programs at Johnston Community College, it’s her job to oversee the education of new nurse aides and other healthcare professionals. At the other end of the phone could be a hospital, nursing home or a family needing health care assistance for a loved one.

“They want our best students,” she said. “It’s truly a feeding frenzy for our best nurse aide and healthcare students.”

A good nurse aide will never be unemployed. Also in demand are phlebotomists and cardiovascular technicians. Training for these careers, along with home health aide or geriatric aide certifications, can be achieved in less than half a year.

But that doesn’t mean they’re easy. Every term, Grady’s programs “weed out” those who don’t cut it. Standards are high and unbendable. This explains JCC’s higher-than-average passing rate on certification exams: A 90 percent passing rate for Nurse Aide I compared with the state average of 60 percent. Most of these careers require state or federal certification. For Nurse Aide II, cardiovascular technicians and phlebotomists, the pass rate is nearly 100 percent for JCC students.

“We have high standards,” she said. “And not everyone is cut out for health care.”

Grady looks for the traits that can’t be easily measured. “You need a good, positive attitude,” she said, “and people skills, as well as smarts, maturity, great study habits and hard work. The best are called to the mission and have a heart for people.”

Salaries for a new Nurse Aide I are usually $8-$12 per hour, with a private nurse aide making $14 and higher per hour. The more advanced Nurse Aide II can make $12-$18 per hour. A phlebotomist may make up to $18 per hour, and a cardiovascular technician can make up to $23 per hour.

Those that enter healthcare primarily for the pay and job security usually do not last, Grady said.

“Healthcare is hard work. Nothing is easy about it,” she said.

When she helps a student realize they haven’t the heart or talent for a healthcare career, Grady knows she is helping that student move on to something else, but she is also “doing health care and mankind a favor.”

These entry-level careers allow a person to see if they like the healthcare field and discover if they have what it takes.

“It’s a trying out,” she said. “We allow them to touch patients, and some people learn they don’t like to touch patients. Better to learn that now than after they’ve put months in the classroom. These students weed themselves out before they expend time and money trying to get accepted into higher level courses.”

JCC healthcare students get experience in local hospitals and long-term care facilities.

Students can choose to take the courses for college credit, with many high school students offering students the opportunity to get a head start. These careers provide the basics for nursing, advanced nursing, medicine and physician assistant, emergency medical services technician, imaging and sonographers. A JCC student can get the fundamentals for a career in healthcare that can go as far as a person’s ambitions.

Demand for classes has grown to the point that JCC will possibly be adding a sixth nurse aide faculty position next year.

In five years, the JCC program has grown from two classes to 17 classes a semester, now in curriculum, as well as continuing education. That’s when Grady arrived from UNC Johnston Health where her 30-year nursing career included director of education for both staff and the community, as well as director of the intensive care unit.

She has either trained or mentored so many healthcare workers in the area that she knew most of the staff at her own medical procedure in a Raleigh hospital last year.

She takes a great deal of pride in the staff of nurse aide, nursing and other healthcare faculty she has brought to JCC. Together, they help the students with the heart for healthcare find their mission.

This story was written for WRAL TechWire Innovator partner Johnston Community College.