PREPARING FOR CARING: Susan Risbrudt prepares some of her CNA students for work in the healthcare industry. Left to right, Susan Risbrudt, Macee Butler, Daphnie Nadgwick, Isaac Elliott, Kjerstin Erickson, Ahnaka Ehlert and Kristin Connelly. 

As the nation ventures toward recovery from the rough waters of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has also found itself within a nursing shortage. Nurses are facing drastic burnout rates as a result of the chaos that has ensued, now resulting in facing low supply and high demand in our healthcare system.

One of the many ways to address this can be found within the Fergus Falls community, within the grounds of Kennedy Secondary School (KSS) — the certified nursing assistant (CNA) program.

The CNA course is offered to high school students and is one semester long. For students who qualify, it not only gives them high school credits, but they can also get three college credits through M State.

The start of this program began with former principal Dean Monke. It was, and still is, sponsored by LB Homes and Pioneer Care Center, the two locations where students take their clinicals for the program.

The course is taught by Susan Risbrudt, who has been teaching the class for five of the six years that it has been in existence. Risbrudt has been a registered nurse for 33 years, finding herself in a variety of settings. She has worked at Lake Region Healthcare for 15 years, as a hospice nurse for five years and has been a nursing educator on and off since 1999.

Risbrudt got the offer to be the instructor for the class and expressed that she initially felt a little unsure. “When I was offered to teach at the high school level, I was somewhat hesitant, truthfully. But the biggest surprise and most satisfying surprise, really, has been that the 15 to 18-year-olds who have elected to take the course have been fully engaged and eager to learn in this introductory healthcare course.”

The students cover 10 different subject areas, including basic and restorative nursing skills, legal and ethical behaviors, communication needs, patient rights, emotional, cultural and mental health needs, as well as 60 hands-on skills. It may sound like a lot to an outsider, but Risbrudt assures that it is a beginner level course. The real challenge that students face is mandatory attendance, testing and demonstration of hands-on skills, which are well met with a good set of studying skills and dedication.

After students learn and practice in the classroom, they are sent to clinicals for an overall count of 16 hours. Many find themselves nervous at first, but find themselves reassured as they dive into clinicals, knowing they are making a difference in patients’ lives as they do it. Risbrudt says this is her favorite part of the program. She also adds her years of experience to give the class more flavor, sharing her nursing stories with her students.

One of her students, Paxten Jensen, a senior at the Area Learning Center, shared her favorite part of the class. “I would have to say doing the skills — giggling with everyone when we are supposed to be serious.”

Risbrudt highly recommends this class to high school students who have an interest in healthcare, as it is very multifaceted and can be applied to many areas of healthcare. She is proud to say that 90% of her students succeed in this program and get their license through a series of written and skills examinations. Although she is aiming for a 100% passing rate constantly.

As for the future of the program, Risbrudt added, “I hope this program has a permanent placement in the courses offered at KSS. I have no reason to believe that it doesn’t. In the past few years, the course has filled quickly with some students placed on a waiting list. The only thing I would change would be to add another section (class) so more students could go through the program. I collaborate often with LB Homes and Pioneer Care Center and have observed the increasing need for healthcare workers at all levels. Those facilities are great supporters of this program and readily hire eligible KSS students.”

Local impact is largely being made with this class. Following the program, many students fill in much-needed roles at some of the many healthcare and senior care facilities in Fergus Falls.

Many students shared their excitement for using their license or even going on to college for healthcare afterwards. Kjestin Erickson, who is a sophomore at KSS shared her current plans for the future, “I’m planning on going to MSUM for my generals for pre-occupational therapy. Then once I’m done with that I’m planning on going to Kansas University for occupational therapy. The degree that I’m planning on getting is my bachelors.”

“Although I am no longer in the direct-care nursing workforce, I believe I still can impact the staffing shortages, by leading and nurturing future healthcare professionals, one classroom at a time,” Risbrudt stated.

Her students are currently wrapping up their semester with clinicals. Many shared the excitement and ambition to become a part of the workforce after they get their licenses. Daphne Nadgwick, a sophomore at KSS shared her own thoughts about the nursing shortage, “I know I am only one person, but I wish to help in any way I can.”

Next semester awaits even more students for Risbrudt’s CNA class. So many students held interest in it that the class’ semester two student population was being pushed to its limits.

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