Healthy Horizons

Gwen Maag (center), instructor for the “CNA Training Camp” in Yankton, stands among the class members holding their graduation certificates during Thursday’s “Chart Your Career” ceremony at the Avera Sacred Heart Hospital (ASHH) Pavilion.

Ella Brummer didn’t need to look far for an inspiration to enter the health care field.

The Wynot (Nebraska) High School student’s mother works as the nursing director at the Hartington, Nebraska, nursing home.

“My mom has influenced me a lot. She worked very hard during the pandemic, and I saw her struggles and what she went through,” she said. “I want to work with her someday, and I thought this (camp) would be a good starting point. This has been a great opportunity.”

Brummer, who is considering a career as a dermatologist, was among nine students who graduated Thursday from the Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) Training Camp at Yankton’s Avera Sacred Heart Hospital Pavilion.

Great Yankton Living promoted the local camp as a way of helping fill the need for certified nursing assistants in the area. Rita Nelson and Nancy Wenande were recognized for their roles with the camp.

A number of the students said they planned on entering a health care field or saw the camp as a great opportunity to check out a medical field.

The members of the Certified Nurse Assistant (CNA) Training Camp were recognized during a “Chart Your Career” graduation ceremony in the Avera Sacred Heart Pavilion in Yankton.

Former South Dakota Lt. Gov. Matt Michels of Yankton, a registered nurse as well as attorney, served as keynote speaker. He joked that he accidentally entered health care as a teenager.

“It was a hormonal decision,” he said with a laugh. “A friend and I were in school when we saw this really long line of girls. We decided to join it and then found out it a sign-up for what were called ‘candy stripers,’ or volunteers in the hospital. They don’t even use that term anymore.”

Michels and his friend tried to make a quick exit from the line, but they were collared by the organizer and signed up as orderlies.

“My friend and I decided to try it,” he said. “He lasted a day, but I made it a career and kept doing it for years.”

Michels not only liked the work, but he also became fascinated by the people receiving care. As a 12-year-old, he visited his grandmother in the hospital.

“You could just feel the aura there, all these people and all their (life) stories,” he said of his respect for the patients.

He urged the young graduates to reach out to others throughout life, including health care careers. “Don’t be afraid to form friendships and relationships,” he said.

Michels pointed out the media in the room, noting their work in spreading health care’s message. At the same time, they have been impacted with health care issues in their families, he added.

Michels shared a moment of pride, as his son, Collin, will graduate next week from Stanford University in California as an emergency-room physician. The event will bring joy but also comes amidst the many challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, the elder Michels said.

Regardless of their life path, the graduates should take pride in their chosen career, he said. “All work has dignity,” he added.

As a graduation “gift,” Michels handed out sunglasses to the students.

“Your future’s so bright, you’ve got to wear shades,” he added with a grin. “If you can dream it, you can do it.”

In her welcome, Sheila Ulrich challenged the class to use its newfound knowledge to relieve suffering and to bring healing.

“Go forth and set the world on fire with your passion,” said Ulrich, director of Avera Education and Staffing Solutions.

Ulrich provided an overview of the week’s activities, which were selected not only to educate the teenagers but also to provide them with an insight into themselves.

Camp instructor Gwen Maag shared some of the class learning assignments — such as sitting on bedpans to experience how they would feel for a hospital patient or nursing home resident.

While sharing some of those light and sometimes unpleasant moments, Maag also became emotional when she spoke of her pride in the young adults who were taking on the responsibility of caring for others.

“I could picture any one of you working in health care,” she told them.

Maag spoke of the different personalities in the group, noting the Yankton CNA classmates mixed hard work with compassion and empathy.

“You are leader types, and you’re all relater-types,” she told the teenagers. “It takes all types of personalities to make health care work, and I honor each one of those (types).”

In addition to Brummer, the other graduates expressed a wide range of interests in the medical field.

Kayla Andersen of Wakonda wants to pursue a medical field and sees the CNA field as a good job opportunity while attending college.

“I enjoyed the problem solving (during the camp) and seeing that not everything goes as planned,” she said. “Sometimes, you’ve got to make improvements (for a given situation).”

Ben Nelson of Irene plans to enter a pre-medicine program in college, and the camp taught him good hands-on skills.

Alondra Ibarra of Beresford plans to become a cardiac sonographer and enjoyed learning how to take blood pressure and other skills.

Hailee Privett of Yankton will be a high school junior this fall and wants to enter audiology. She saw the camp as offering a good insight before pursuing further studies.

“The clinical part I really enjoyed. I learned so much that I can’t really remember all off it, but it seemed like the week went really fast,” she said. “I liked the simulation lab at Mount Marty. It was fun and gave a break from the computer lab.”

Ariel Bender of Yankton, who will also enter her junior year this fall, said she plans to use her CNA training to get a job while she completes high school.

Alexis Beacom graduated this spring from Osmond, Nebraska, and is headed to Wayne State College in Nebraska.

“I’m undecided (on my major), but I want to find a job at the hospital or nursing home in Wayne (during college),” she said. “I’m thinking of getting into health care or teaching, and I thought this camp would be a good starting point and give me a good feel of what health care is all about.”

Vanessa Sprakel will be a junior this year at Crofton, Nebraska. She sees the training camp opening up both current and future opportunities for her.

“I decided to take this program, and it opened up my eyes to a medical career,” she said. “We have nursing homes around, and my sister worked at one and really liked it. I see this as a good opportunity.”

Rebecca Tiedeman graduated from Beresford last May and is headed to Southeast Technical College for studies as a invasive cardiovascular technician. “This should give me a great head start in my career and (helps fill) a prerequisite for my work in college,” she said.

Even if the graduates don’t enter a health field, the week’s training provides them with valuable skills, Maag said. “I taught them 24 skills over and over. It’ll make them bigger and better persons,” she said.

The week-long camp, while intense, bonded the students in a way that will result in lifelong friendships, she predicted.

She focused on the humanity involved with health care. “The purpose of the CNA is to make people feel better. Take what you have learned to help others,” she said.

Maag spoke of the need to connect with the individual receiving care rather than just performing tasks for them. “There is a sense of enjoyment as a caregiver. Look them in the eye. Stop doing skill stuff and look at them as a person,” she said.

She stressed the importance of civility in dealing with others, including patients or residents. “The world is uncivil and has forgotten kindness and civil ways. We need to go back to that,” she said.

In conclusion, Maag predicted great things for the graduates. “These are truly good people (in the class), and they are going places,” she said.

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