Each of the 18 Napa Valley College students who make up the most recent graduating class of the psychiatric technician program was offered full-time employment at Napa State Hospital.
Two of them spoke recently about their innate compassion, but also about the life purpose they learned about from Robert Millay, the program director.
Millay, a former Air Force corpsman and single parent, went into the profession because he was inspired by his bipolar brother to help improve the lives of people affected by mental illness.
“If you have a calling for caring for others and compassion for a segment of our population that society tends to stigmatize, this is where you end up,” he said about the college program. After they graduate, “If they want to work, they have plenty of choices.”
Shayla Hamilton, 26, an Army veteran who served as a specialist in Kuwait in 2012-13, graduated from the program and is now working at Napa State Hospital.
As an NVC student she did 18 weeks of clinical training at NSH, learning what a psych tech career looks like.
“We know what we’re walking into,” said Hamilton, a Vallejo resident. “Robert Millay challenged us every day to make sure we were honing our skills. We saw patients progress within a few weeks, which was super rewarding.”
Hamilton said she began one of her trainings at Napa Preschool with a child with cerebral palsy, who was almost totally non-verbal. Her goal was to use two-word sentences, but by the end of the training she was using three-word sentences.
“She made astounding progress – I realized I went into the right field for me,” she said.
Gurpreet Dadwal, 35, also graduated from the program and is now working at Napa State Hospital.
He said he is planning to continue his studies to become a nurse practitioner, first by earning his Associate Degree in Nursing from NVC, and then by earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing from Sonoma State University.
“I feel good about helping my patients reach and complete their goals,” said Dadwal, of Fairfield.
Millay echoed that sentiment.
“We want them to be ready to work, but also to understand the purpose of their work,” said Millay.
“Many patients don’t respond well if they’re not given the respect and understanding they deserve,” added Shayla.
“They need someone who understands what they are going through and how to work through it.”
“They do it themselves,” she added. “We provide the treatment and the process to make it possible for them to have a job and a home and be as independent as possible. It makes me feel effective if I do the job correctly. I want to feel good about what I do and why I am doing it.”
Helping patients recover from mental illness is an honorable profession that should attract more students, said Millay.
“We are currently planning to expand the program and expect to develop a waiting list, depending on interest. Given that there are so many opportunities to work in this profession, I’m surprised more people aren’t clamoring to join in this worthwhile profession.”
“I could graduate the maximum 45 students per semester for the next five years and still not provide enough psych techs to fill all of the jobs open in the Bay Area,” Millay said.
“The job is not just taking care of the person – it’s taking care of the community.”