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Three paths, one commitment to care, GSS-HL employees earn nursing degrees
June 20, 2011

By Jennifer Kotila
Staff Writer

HOWARD LAKE, MN – The Good Samaritan Society-Howard Lake (GSS) has three dedicated employees who have recently earned their nursing degrees, though not all in the same manner.

Tracy Klenda and Melissa Buehl, both of Howard Lake, earned their registered nursing degrees by participating in the Good Samaritan Society’s Grow Our Own Registered Nurses Program, which is in partnership with the University of South Dakota.

The program offers staff members within the Good Samaritan Society the opportunity to earn an associate degree in nursing by taking online courses and completing clinicals in their own geographic area.

Jess Tormanen, of Montrose, earned his licensed practical nursing (LPN) degree recently by attending Ridgewater College. He will be continuing school in the fall to pursue a registered nursing degree.

Klenda, Buehl, and Tormanen have all worked at the nursing home in Howard Lake for a number of years.

Klenda began her career at GSS, working in the kitchen, in November 2003.

Buehl started in the housekeeping department 10 years ago, and Tormanen began as a certified nurse’s assistant in 2007.

Although all three employees came from a different background, they have all found that helping others is important to them, which is why they pursued nursing degrees.

Growing up in nursing homes

“I learned to walk in a nursing home,” Klenda said.

When Klenda was just a baby, her uncle was in an accident in which he suffered a neck injury, and was placed in a nursing home.

As she was growing up in Illinois, Klenda also helped care for her grandmother.

She eventually moved to Kansas and started her own family.

In 2003, Klenda came to Howard Lake to help care for her mother, who had become ill.

“This was the first job I applied to when I came, and I’m still here,” Klenda said.

Although she started in the dietary department, Klenda knew she wanted to become a nurse. “I enjoy caregiving – not everybody likes it,” Klenda said.

New to nursing homes

Buehl had never really been in a nursing home before she started at GSS, having worked mainly in the food industry.

She was a 17-year-old high school dropout when she saw an ad for a housekeeping assistant needed at the nursing home.

Looking for a change of pace, Buehl applied, and was hired. “I basically grew up here,” Buehl said. “The charge nurses raised me.”

Although she had never given a thought to becoming a nurse before, about a month after she started working in the housekeeping department, Buehl knew she wanted to become a nurse.

“But things kept getting pushed back, with kids and everything,” Buehl said.

Finally, when the Grow Your Own program came along, it was the perfect opportunity for her to reach her goals.

Taxi company manager to nursing

Originally from Cokato, Tormanen had been living in Colorado managing a taxi company for seven years before moving back to Minnesota.

He didn’t realize he wanted to go into nursing right away, but found he was helping a lot of people while working at the taxi company.

“You’re kind of like everybody’s social worker when you are driving taxi,” Tormanen said.

He really liked being able to help people, so a friend of his recommended he go into nursing.

He moved back to Minnesota, became a certified nurse’s assistant in April of 2007, and was hired at GSS that May.

There was a long waiting list to get into the nursing program at Ridgewater College in Hutchinson, but Tormanen worked on his generals in the meantime.

By the time Tormanen had completed his generals, he was accepted into the nursing program.

Different paths for different people

Klenda and Buehl were some of the first participants in the Grow Your Own program through the Good Samaritan Society. “We were their guinea pigs,” Klenda said.

They began the program in January 2007. Before that, they had both become certified nurse’s aids, and then trained medication assistants. Buehl also worked in payroll and staffing.

The program worked for them because of its flexibility. Both young women had families they were raising at the same time they were going to school, and Klenda was also still helping to care for her mother.

“It was a good experience for my kids to see me graduate,” Klenda said.

Tormanen decided to go to Ridgewater College rather than participate in the Grow Your Own program because he learns better hands-on, he said.

He also liked the structured schedule of having to attend class and have assignments done at certain times. “Going to school keeps me focused,” he said.

One of the things Klenda and Buehl said they missed by taking courses online was not knowing the appropriate pronunciation for words, and having to wait for an e-mail back to answer their questions.

“All the nurses here are great. They took us under their wings and taught us everything,” Klenda said.

Although Klenda, Buehl, and Tormanen received higher nursing degrees, it did not mean they were automatically allowed to move up.

As positions become available, they still have to go through the application process to move to that higher position.

At this time, they are filling in for nurses who are on vacation, and working part time as registered nurses.

Tormanen is training to work as a social service assistant three days per week.

“Nursing is more hands-on healing. I really like the mental aspect of it all,” Tormanen said,

He added that working in the mental health field was one of his favorite aspects when going through clinicals, which is hands-on training needed before passing classes to become a nurse.

All three employees were able to receive assistance for going to school. Klenda and Buehl paid for about one-third of the cost, while the nursing home and Good Samaritan Society paid the rest.

Tormanen received two scholarships from Good Samaritan Society while attending Ridgewater College.

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