Two Nurses Roll Up Their Sleeves As They Take On Business Ownership

Susan Mehalick
Times Union, Albany, N.Y.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr)
As Susan Mehalick reports, “Nurse-entrepreneurs LaQuetta Alexander-Ellis, LPN, and Odaysia Burton-Garland, RN, are building a business by teaching others to be phlebotomy technicians to draw blood in health care settings.”


It’s safe to say that the sight of needles and blood don’t make these two Albany women squeamish.

Instead, nurse-entrepreneurs LaQuetta Alexander-Ellis, LPN, and Odaysia Burton-Garland, RN, are building a business by teaching others to be phlebotomy technicians to draw blood in health care settings, among other skills, through their Hearts and Mind Training Center. The center, which is an American Heart Association-authorized training provider, also offers EKG technician and CPR training.

While managing families and other jobs — Alexander-Ellis in the home care field and Burton-Garland in radiation oncology at Albany Medical Center and critical care at Stratton VA Medical Center — they launched the center in early 2020, just in time for the shutdowns of the coronavirus pandemic.

Making it work has meant putting into practice many of the skills they’ve honed as nurses — and not just clinical know-how. They’re also bringing to the table the drive to keep learning, the ability to think on their feet, and an overarching desire to make a difference in their community. Oh, and they’ve decided to self-fund their enterprise by picking up extra shifts at their other jobs rather than taking out loans.

“Teaching was always my passion,” Alexander-Ellis said, explaining that as a girl she would line up her dolls in her bedroom to teach “class.” “It’s something that I enjoy. I love knowing that I’m helping others and helping the community.”

The women each have taught in health care and college settings previously. When they decided to team up in business, their idea was to create an intensive training program that would allow students to quickly obtain skills to set them on a path to good-paying jobs with growth potential.

“Our program is very concentrated,” Burton-Garland said. “It’s four weeks, but there is a lot of work to do in those four weeks. … Our goal is to get (our students) working.”

The two founders explained that not everyone has the desire or resources to invest in a medical assistant program or a full-fledged nursing program when they’re looking to get started in the medical field. The center’s phlebotomy course costs around $1,000 and workforce training grants from the state Department of Labor can help students cover the cost, the women said.

The Hearts and Mind phlebotomy technician program includes virtual learning, accessible via computer, laptop or smartphone, plus 40 hours of hands-on training. (In-person sessions are held on weekends at the Community Loan Fund of the Capital Region business incubator space in Albany.) Students must perform 30 successful venipunctures and 10 unaided capillary collection procedures to graduate.

And while trainees learn the fundamentals of needle sticks on training arms first, they then roll up their sleeves to practice on each other.

Graduates are then eligible to take their national certification exam to become certified phlebotomy technicians. Locally, certified phlebotomy techs are able to command starting wages of $16-$18 an hour, Alexander-Ellis said, and local hospitals are hiring their graduates as soon as they apply for jobs.

As of early fall 2021, more than 120 students had graduated, including people already working in health care settings who wanted to up their skills, but also those who are new to the field, like warehouse workers looking to make career changes.

They support their students post-graduation, too.

“We send them links for job postings, we point them in the right direction. We also help them update their resumes,” Alexander-Ellis said.

She’s happy to say that some of their grads who’ve landed jobs have begun to move into supervisory roles and are exploring furthering their education so they can continue to advance in their careers.

While the business partners are focused on growing the training center to the point where it could provide a full-time living for each of them, they also see themselves having a greater mission as community builders.

The Hearts and Mind mission statement spells it out: “Our mission is to promote excellence in career and technical studies by educating our community and preparing them to enter and remain competitive in the workforce, ensuring our students can obtain entry level positions in the medical field,” Burton-Garland said.

But that’s not all. They see their training as a way to offer people of color, especially, an access point to better jobs in the health care field. In turn, they hope this will lead to systemic changes that will make health care more equitable for all.

“Working in health care and in a lot of hospitals, you don’t see a lot of people of color, unless they’re serving food or cleaning,” Burton-Garland said. “(We) want to diversify the health care workforce, as well, so when people are in the hospital they see people that look like them in jobs other than just cleaning and cooking. And it makes people more comfortable — and maybe people will be a little bit more trusting of the health care field as well.”

How they did it

— Research. They started with “lots and lots of internet research,” Garland said. A key site for information was

— Business fundamentals. They consulted with the Albany Small Business Development Center based at the University at Albany — ; 518.442.SBDC — where they learned about essentials such as hiring an accountant and an attorney.

— Licensing. They made sure theirs was in order with the New York state Education Department.

— Key connection. They made their way to the Community Loan Fund of the Capital Region — ; Albany, (518) 436-8586; Schenectady, (518) 436-8586. They weren’t seeking loans, but knowledge. “They have all kinds of programs to help you get started,” Burton-Garland said. It’s where they worked on their business plan and found an attorney (through one of the courses they took).

— Social media. While learning the marketing piece of the business has been one of their biggest challenges, the founders say they have learned to use Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to promote their offerings and tout their students’ successes.
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Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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