Avera career planning opens door to nursing career

Sept. 13, 2018

This paid piece is sponsored by Avera.

Stephanie Donkor, 22, is a success story – from becoming a nursing student at the University of South Dakota to her current job as patient care technician and future job as a rehabilitation nurse at Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center.

“To be here, I’ve come a long way,” said Donkor, who grew up in the West African country of Ghana. At the age of 14, she moved to Qatar in the Middle East with her parents and two younger siblings. After graduating from high school, her desire to travel and become a nurse led her to USD. With the blessing and support of her parents, she made the move – on her own – to a new country and a new culture at the age of 19.

“I’m breaking boundaries in my family because I’ll be the first to become a nurse,” she said. “If I can help someone or even change a life, I’m going to do that. It’s not easy, but I think I can get there.”

With a huge range of career choices available and the current tight labor market, workforce development is more important than ever to organizations such as Avera, which employs over 18,000 people.

“We realize that our job starts much earlier than posting an open position online. In fact, we are in constant contact with high schools, colleges and universities to help ensure that new graduates consider a health care career,” said Pam Hilber, director of workforce planning for Avera Health. “We’re always developing new and creative ways to accomplish these goals.”

One is Avera’s Career Planning Service and Avera PREP, a pre-health care experience program.

Avera PREP is a unique summer experience designed to give college freshmen and sophomores who aspire to a career in health care a backstage pass to see career options in action. Students meet and shadow a variety of health care providers. They also get the opportunity to meet with an Avera workforce consultant for tips on career planning.

A foot in the door

An important step in Donkor’s journey was accepting an invite to the Avera PREP program during her first year at USD. 

During the event, Donkor toured several departments on the Avera McKennan campus, including the neonatal intensive care unit and pulmonary unit.

“It was a great opportunity to get insight into the health care field before I started nursing school. It opened my eyes to all of the different opportunities there are within nursing.”

Donkor also learned valuable skills about applying for a job at Avera. And she didn’t wait to put that advice into practice. Later that same day, she applied for a patient care technician job in the short-stay unit at Avera McKennan. She received a job offer and now works every other weekend and picks up extra shifts when she can while attending school full time.

“The Avera PREP program gave me the passion to go for it. It also gave me a foot in the door,” she said.

Skills for success

As a patient care tech, Donkor is cultivating both relationships and skills that will set her up for success as a nurse. In fact, she has already accepted a position as a rehabilitation nurse at Avera McKennan upon graduation in May 2019.

“Before becoming a patient care tech, I literally had no skills whatsoever,” she laughed. “They taught me how to do things like monitoring vital signs and blood glucose sugar but also how to interact and be comfortable with patients. Working at Avera has given me confidence. It’s also helped me with school, especially when things that I’m doing in the short-stay unit appear on my tests. I can testify to them from my personal experience. ”

Donkor radiates gratitude for the opportunities and support she’s received – from her parents, the Avera PREP program, her professors, mentor and Avera Heart Hospital nurse Mary Adebayo, classmates and co-workers, to name a few.

“The nurses at Avera are very down-to-earth and ready to help me with my shortcomings,” she said. “They’re always there to help me when I need anything, and I know I can depend on them.”

For those interested in pursuing a career in nursing – no matter your age – Donkor offers one piece of advice: “If you enjoy helping people, go for it. You can do it. Because I can, you can do it too.”

To learn more about opportunities at Avera, visit Avera.org/careers.

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Avera career planning opens door to nursing career

From Ghana to USD and a new role at Avera, this young woman’s story proves the right approach to workforce development leads to success for employer and employee.

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