More education means second career for retiree

By Kinsey Lee Clark

After her night shift as an obstetrics surgical tech at Grady Memorial Hospital, 60-year-old Gladys Cooper would head to Atlanta Career Institute for its Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) training program. She often would nap in the car before the weekday classes in Norcross.

The timing of the program was crucial. She retired at the end of 2012 from Grady, where she had worked 32 years, but she needed to work two more years to qualify for full Social Security benefits.

After completing the 85-hour, state-approved program, she landed a job in 2013 at A Great Friend, a home healthcare organization in metro Atlanta.

Cooper, now 62, is eligible to receive full Social Security benefits when she retires. She credits the education and CNA job for helping her remain in the workforce. She chatted about her education experience and her tips for adult learners seeking to go back to school or change jobs.

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Q: What did you learn from the program at Atlanta Career Institute?

A: A lot of stuff I already knew because I had been in the health profession so long, (but) my job mainly entailed assisting delivering babies. Working with my mom and dad and their sickness was the only experience I had taking care of the elderly. It was a good update on taking care of people in-home, assisting with their daily activities: giving them baths and feeding, and monitoring their vital signs.

Q: Was it difficult to be retired and pursuing your CNA?

A: I think was the oldest one in the class, but it was an advantage. Healthcare is a very good job for the elderly, really, because we know more about how someone of that age feels. You have to think about the fact that you’re getting older, and you’re going to need help one day. They (the instructors) tell you how to go in and be friendly, and don’t go in with a bossy attitude.

Q: How did you balance your time?

A: I was working night shifts. I would get off at 7:30 a.m., and I had to be at class at 9 a.m. When I left Grady, I would drive straight to the school and then sit in the car and sleep until it was time to go in. It was hard, but I was going to have to retire at the end of the year, and I knew I was going to have to still work, so I had to do it.

Q: What tips would you give adult learners?

A: Make sure you can get some rest in there somewhere because you’ve got to be able to think. Be determined to go through the course. I would really recommend anybody that’s looking to change their career to get into home healthcare because you learn a lot and you get to meet a lot of different people.

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