CNA student Alexis Kampwerth (left) receives a blessing of the hands from CNA instructor Mrs. Sue Darr. (Submitted photo)
By LINDA BEHRENS
Four seniors and two juniors from Mater Dei Catholic High School in Breese have begun training for a future career in the medical field while they are still in high school.
Two alumnae from Mater Dei, both retired registered nurses, have returned to the school to teach these future nurses/medical professionals.
Helen Essenpreis describes her nursing career as her vocation. Sue Darr says it is a ministry, not just a profession.
Both are passionate about being nurses, even though they have retired from working full-time. They had planned on becoming faith community nurses.
When Essenpreis retired in July 2022, she still wanted to work part-time with nursing. “This was God’s plan for me,” she says.
“God puts you in a place you need to be,” Darr says, who retired earlier to take care of her parents in hospice.
Today, that place is as teachers of the certified nursing assistant (CNA) program at Mater Dei. They hope to impart their passion on these young students. This is the first year for the course.
The program consists of two classes – medical terminology and certified nursing assistant – held the first two periods of the school day. Clinicals at area nursing homes and HSHS St. Joseph’s Hospital in Breese take place two days a week.
The course is approved by the Illinois Department of Public Health and is a dual credit course with Kaskaskia College.
In May, the students will take the nursing assistant certification exam for Illinois. If they pass, they may work as a CNA. Students must be 16 to sit for the exam.
“Being a nursing assistant is a great part-time job for high school and college students,” Essenpreis says. “This course also offers them a chance to see if this type of job is for them, to see if they want to study nursing or other medical professions in college.”
Seniors Alexis Kampwerth, Rhya Kruse, Carissa Litteken and Addison Tegenkamp and juniors Brianna Noud and Ashley Ramos are the first Mater Dei students to take this course.
They all feel this opportunity gives them a head start with college. They also want to begin working as a CNA as soon as they pass the exam. One of the students hopes to work as a CNA for a fourth-grade girl in her hometown who needs assistance.
Ashley wants to confirm she is capable of doing this work and to study to be a nurse practitioner. She shares that when she was young, her dad was sick and was often in the hospital.
“I grew up seeing how he was taken care of,” she says. “Then when he went into hospice, my mom and I took care of him. I realized at a young age, I could do this. I want to help people.”
Carissa has always been drawn to nursing and wants to find out if she will enjoy nursing as a career.
“I really like it so far. I don’t have any doubts about it,” she says.
Brianna, who wants to be a nurse anesthetist, says this course will help her learn the basics, so when she starts nursing school, she will know what she is doing.
“My whole life, I have wanted to be a nurse,” Brianna says. “I was sick when I was a kid. The nurses were so kind to me, and I knew I wanted to be the same way to other people. I want to have that same impact.”
Alexis, who grew up on a farm, thought she might become a veterinarian, but finally decided she wanted to work with people.
“Going into this, I thought I wanted to study to become a physical therapist, but now I don’t know what I am going to do in the medical field,” she says.
Rhya says she has always wanted to go into imaging or to be a travel nurse.
“Nothing got my attention like nursing did,” she says. “Even when I was little, if someone got hurt, I wanted to put the band aid on.”
Essenpreis and Darr are proud of these young women.
“You can see the care, compassion, gentleness and love they have,” Darr says. “When we are with them at clinicals, you can feel it. You can see the Spirit when they are taking care of patients, bathing them, feeding them, talking to them.”
“There is such a need for nurses,” Essenpreis adds. “This course can jumpstart their careers and their education. But it also allows them to see what Catholic healthcare is all about – how we serve the Lord in what we do.”
Before clinicals began in October, a prayer service was held at HSHS St. Joseph’s Hospital.
“The blessing of hands is a visual and prayerful way to know their hands are the hands of Christ,” Darr says. “Every time we use our hands, every time we touch, that exemplifies who He is through us. It’s so important they reflect on this before they begin their ministry.”
Brianna says, “During the blessing of the hands, I felt it was the beginning of my career. It was reassuring, like I felt I chose the right path.”
Speaking for the group, she adds, “We are the future. God put us here