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NEWS | March 14, 2022

Certified Nurse Assistant program a life-changing experience for Michigan Airman

By Capt. Andrew Layton Michigan National Guard

MIDLAND, Michigan -- Senior Airman Tiffany McPherson knows exactly why she joined the Michigan Air National Guard.

“I didn’t join to become a stranger,” she says. “I joined to get more involved and to do everything I can to make our little piece of the world a better place.”

Since 2002, McPherson’s journey in uniform has taken her into three different Air Force career fields, each with a unique perspective and technical skillset. Even after a ten-year break in service, McPherson chose to re-join the armed forces because she missed the comradery and purpose it gave her. Currently, she serves as an Aircrew Flight Equipment specialist at Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Macomb County. She says her military service is key to gathering a palette of skills she can eventually draw from to do as much good as she can.

“I would love to take my security knowledge, my medical knowledge, and my ability to think, act and respond in a systematic way – and develop programs, especially for our school systems to prevent and respond to situations like active shooters,” she says. “I’m trying to bring it all together – and we’re getting there!”

McPherson’s newest skills are developing through a program started by the Michigan National Guard after the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs requested assistance to address the ongoing healthcare staffing shortage the state faces as it continues to respond to COVID-19 and the basic health needs of residents.

Along with six members of the Michigan Army National Guard, McPherson stepped up for the healthcare staffing program’s pilot course, facilitated by Ross Medical Education Center in Midland, Michigan. She and her colleagues are being trained as certified nursing assistants (CNA) through a combination of classroom-based instruction and hands-on clinical training. The costs associated with this training are being covered by both the state and federal government.

The chance to gain a professional medical credential at no personal expense was an opportunity McPherson couldn’t pass up.

“I love the medical field, and I love bridging the gap between military and civilian careers, so I felt like this was an opportunity that was designed for me,” McPherson said. “It was like, ‘Heck yeah, I want to do that!’”

McPherson has been performing her clinical training at Primrose Retirement Community of Midland. Right away, she realized the difference a simple connection could make for the elderly residents.

“You only need to be with the residents a short period of time before your heart goes into it,” she said.

Almost as gratifying, McPherson says, is the way she has used skills equipped by other military experiences to broaden her personal scope of care with the residents.

“I’ve also been a personal trainer, so I’m used to watching people’s muscular alignment and body movements,” she said. “Walking into a room, assessing a situation and talking to somebody, you can tell if someone’s O2 level is off and they’re confused, or if they haven’t eaten that day and their blood sugars are dropping. That’s almost an instant response that I’m able to take away from the experiences I’ve gained.”

Many veterans are among the resident population at Primrose. For McPherson, seeing things like a shadow box of medals over a bed, or a service-related tattoo on a resident’s forearm are especially meaningful.

“You can be a complete legend for your entire life and then here you are,” she said. “These are our older generations, our brothers and sisters in arms. And they need us – they need people.”

As a CNA, McPherson will be able to perform important tasks that significantly impact a resident’s quality of life. From checking vital signs to assisting with toileting, ambulating, bathing, and feeding, CNAs provide residents with many of the basics they need to sustain life.

“It’s been extremely eye-opening, and really good,” she said.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, McPherson has also helped set up hospital beds at the TCF Center in Detroit, distributed groceries at the Forgotten Harvest Food Bank in Oak Park, and performed logistics and medical testing missions in other areas of the state.

It has been a busy two years, but McPherson says that’s what the Michigan National Guard is all about.

“Almost every single Guard member, we work in the community and we joined to serve the community,” she said. “We are the electricians, we’re the surgical assistants, we’re the firefighters – we’re the people that work alongside you that love the community and want to help in every way that we can.”