Certified phlebotomist/nurse assistant Keisha Smith is proof of what can be accomplished through hard work and sheer determination.
The Culpeper resident overcame homelessness while raising a young child to attain two health care certifications and start a fulfilling career.
Smith was taking a certified nursing assistant (CNA) class through a medical facility when she came across LFCC Workforce Solutions’ phlebotomy program. As part of the “learn while you earn” CNA program, she was earning a reduced pay of $9 per hour.
Meanwhile, she had stopped by LFCC’s Fauquier Campus to see what classes were available. At the time, she was totally unaware of the college’s Workforce Solutions career-training courses. Intrigued, she grabbed a catalog to take home with her.
“I was just looking through it, and the phlebotomy program caught my eye,” Smith says. “I like the health care field, and I just figured, ‘Why not?’”
Phlebotomists are trained to draw blood from patients for a variety of reasons, including medical tests, blood donations, transfusions and research.
When she started the course in Oct. 2017, Smith’s son, Alhaji Kamara Jr., was just a year old.
“As a new mother, I found motivation in my child – I knew that I wanted a better life for us and I had to work for it,” Smith recalls. “After the pay cut, I was evicted; I had made one too many late payments and ended up homeless. But, I pressed on, keeping my head in my books, showing up for class and completing what was expected of me.
“I shed a few tears into my books, but I never quit. I had faith that my situation was temporary.”
Last September, Smith passed her CNA certification exam, and in November, she passed the National HealthCareer Association certification exam with an “amazing score” to become a certified phlebotomy technician.
“I’m just proud of how far I’ve come,” she says.
After working as a CNA and a mobile phlebotomist, Smith has recently begun working as a dialysis technician with DaVita Culpeper Dialysis, where she has great benefits for herself and her son.
Because she qualified for financial aid, Smith only paid about $65 for the phlebotomy course. Without `the aid, she says she couldn’t have afforded higher education.
“I loved that it was hands-on,” she says. “We had arms that we could practice on and learn how to tie tourniquets.”
Smith’s ultimate goal is to be an occupational therapist, and she plans to start classes in pursuit of that in the spring at Eastern Virginia Career College.
“I love being there for someone, helping them,” she says. “I just kind of put myself in their shoes. You have to be compassionate in this work. I love it.”
According to Workforce Solutions’ Brandi Harrison, the phlebotomy course is 55 hours, and students will do at least 30 live venipunctures to qualify for the certification exam.
Virginia residents are eligible to pay just one-third of the price thanks to FastForward funding, bringing the tuition down to $655, Harrison says. FastForward programs quickly train Virginians for the most in-demand skills sought by area employers.
Additionally, FANTIC (Financial Aid for Noncredit Training leading to Industry Credentials) funds can cover 90 percent of the remaining cost for those who qualify.
In 2015, LFCC was among the seven community colleges in Virginia selected to begin offering the groundbreaking financial aid for non-credit training. Before that, there was no state or federal funding available as financial aid for non-credit courses.
The goal of FANTIC was to triple the number of credentials being awarded in the commonwealth.
The average salary for phlebotomists in May 2017 in Virginia was $34,380, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nationwide, the number of phlebotomy jobs is expected to grow 25 percent between 2016 and 2026.
Learn more about the Phlebotomy Technician Fast-Track Career Training Program here.