(EFFINGHAM, IL) – For the past 27 years, the Health Occupations Program has helped area high school seniors decide if they want to pursue a health care career.  The program, conducted by the Eastern Illinois Education for Employment Systems (EIEFES) in partnership with HSHS St. Anthony’s Memorial Hospital, is a year-long Health Science Technology course which helps high school seniors to gain broad exposure to and experience the many health care career possibilities throughout the county, giving them valuable insight in determining a future career path.  Students who successfully complete the course are eligible to take the Basic Nurse Assistant Exam to become a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA).
 
St. Anthony’s Memorial Hospital is one of four locations that partners with EIEFES to offer a site for the program. Besides Effingham, there are also sites in Mattoon, Paris and Shelbyville. In HSHS St. Anthony’s program, the students come from nine area high schools: Beecher City, Casey-Westfield, Cowden-Herrick, Dieterich, Effingham, Neoga, St. Anthony, Stewardson-Strasburg and Teutopolis.
 
Through the class, the students have many experiences in the hospital setting as well as in the community. Students participate in the direct care of patients, and work alongside medical and administrative staff as well as in a nursing home.  Part of the program also involves the students selecting various occupations that they are interested in learning more about, called rotations.  Such occupational sites may include veterinary offices, dental offices, physical therapy clinics, surgery centers or other specialized care centers. The program owes its success to the involvement of its broad-based community support.
 
2018-19 Class Celebration
The 2018-19 Health Occupations Class recently held their annual celebration to recognize the students that completed this year’s program. Sixty-five students participated this year, many of whom determined that a health care career is definitely one they want to pursue, while others decided it was not the right fit for them.

Health Occupations Class Instructor JoEllen Armstrong, RN, isn’t disappointed when she hears that a student has changed their mind about pursuing the health care career they had considered before starting the class. “On the contrary, when I hear a student who has taken the class has decided that a health care career is not the right one for them, I am just as happy as when I hear the class has affirmed a student’s decision to pursue a health care path,” she said.  “I always tell them that it is a great thing to discover now in high school before they have spent thousands of dollars in college.”
 
Clarifying Career Paths
One such past student who learned through the class that nursing wasn’t her cup of tea was Erin Habing.  Habing was part of the 2010-2011 Health Occupations Class, having originally signed up wanting to go into nursing.  “It showed me I did not want to go into nursing after I was done. But I liked it because it showed me many occupations within the medical field that I would have never thought to go into. I ended up loving ultrasound and x-ray,” she said.  “It was also nice because I came out of the class with a CNA certificate which I was able to use for four years while I was in radiology school and found a job.”  Habing currently is a CT Technologist at St. Anthony.
 
Another current St. Anthony’s colleague who learned through the program that she wanted to take a different career path is Jami Davis, RN, who works in the hospital cardiac catheterization lab, and participated in the class during 1997-1998. “I was interested in going into physical therapy; however, after taking Health Occupations I knew I wanted to go into nursing!” she said.  “I am a nurse today because of Lynn [Johnson] and Judy [Morr].”  Johnson and Morr both were previous Health Occupations instructors.
 
Health Occupations Class also solidified the career path for Danielle Faber, a student during the 2003-2004 school year.  She shared, “Health Occupations allowed me to experience different types of pharmacy settings.  It also allowed me to see how every health care provider works together to take care of the patient,” she said.  “Only so much can be taught in a classroom but real-life experiences in different health care settings really opens your mind to choosing a career path. After Health Occs, I was positive I wanted to be a pharmacist.”  Today, Faber serves as a pharmacist at St. Anthony’s Memorial Hospital.
 
Life-Saving Skills
There are many benefits to the Health Occupations Class, but one student from this year’s 2018-19 class is extremely grateful for the skills she learned during the class which she used to help save her mother’s life.
 
Renee Buzzard from Beecher City was home early from school on April 9, 2019, at about 1 p.m., getting ready to head out again, along with her brother Bryce, a Lake Land college graduate. They had just spoken with their mom, Allison, who had just come back from a walk and was getting ready to workout.
 
Renee and Bryce were in their rooms, getting ready to go when they heard a thump.  They didn’t think much about it since they have dogs and thought the sound might have been one of them.  But then they heard a whining noise which made them walk into the living room.  They saw their mom, lying on the floor.  Renee recounts, “I yelled across the room, ‘Mom, are you alright?’ When she didn’t say anything, I ran over there, told Bryce to call 911, and I started immediately doing compressions.”  Renee had learned in-depth how to do cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) during Health Occupations Class. 
 
For the next 15 to 20 minutes, Renee did compressions on her mom and was talking to the 911 operator, until the first responders could get there.  Renee recalls, “She was somewhat breathing – she would breathe in with a deep inhale, and then exhale and wouldn’t breathe for two minutes – so I didn’t give her rescue breathing at the direction of the 911 operator. I don’t think I really was thinking about it – I was just doing automatically what I had to do to keep her alive.”
 
The first responders that came were the Tri-County Fire Protection District medical techs. The medic team took over for Renee and used an AED on Allison. Meanwhile, the fire team helped land the helicopter on the front lawn, which was sent to their house to transport Allison directly to HSHS St. John’s Hospital in Springfield. Doctors there shared that her heart’s electrical system had shut down, a situation that some 95% of people don’t survive.  Allison now has a pacemaker/defibrillator and is recovering excellently. 
 
Allison is so grateful to their all-volunteer fire department, her extended family and the entire community for their support during this situation and afterwards. “My yard and house was full that day of people who stopped their daily routine to come and help me…how wonderful is that?”, she said.
 
Recalling how quickly it all happened, Renee said, “I didn’t even have to think about it. It was a no-brainer. My training kicked in and I knew exactly what I needed to do.”  Her brother Bryce remembers it slightly differently. “What she actually said was ‘get out of my way’, he said with a laugh.
 
Renee started Health Occupations Class with the intention of becoming a nurse someday.  The class and this experience have cemented that goal. “I have always wanted to become a nurse and nursing is what I want to pursue in college, although I am considering becoming a doctor,” she said.
 
Renee comes from a family of caregivers.  Her grandmother, Lynn Johnson (Allison’s mother) was a nurse who taught the Health Occupations Class from 1992 to 1998. Lynn’s husband, Larry, is retired from HSHS St. Anthony’s Memorial Hospital’s Laboratory.  Allison shared, “There has always been hope in my family that there would be other caregivers to carry on the tradition.  It was never going to be me, but they were excited that Renee was going to take Health Occupations. I am so glad she did,” Allison said with a smile.
 
The entire Buzzard family is extremely grateful to the Health Occupations Program for what they taught Renee. “The training that they have done has been amazing,” said Allison.  Renee concurred, “I owe this program a debt I will never be able to repay.”
 
Photo #1: The 2018-2019 Health Occupations Class celebrates the completion of their program. Left to right, front row: Abby Repking, Alexus Russell, Renee Buzzard, Ashley Bartels, Erin Browne, Boston Robards, Madison McDaniel, Kaitlyn Lustig, Haidyn Lewis, Katie Kabbes, Abby Schmidt, Holly Bloemker, Kaitlyn Bober, Abby Leuken, Logan Borries, Chloe Funneman and Kaitlyn Stopa. Middle row: Alayna Thompson, Megan Schlechte, Madison Doedtman, Dawnikah Kobielnik, Luke Senteney, Kristy Hom, Calla Roney, Carsyn Fearday, Natalie Carie, Kaitlyn Dust, Olivia Fritcher, Katelyn Jansen, Jamie Bloemer, Logan Blankenship, Jenny Robards, Regan Koester, Allie Dasenbrock, Amber Dust, Dalton Higgs, Alexis Lucy, Audrey Kreke, Madison Hoene, Lanae Koester, Sadie Bueker and Julia Hardiek. Last row: Cole Marxman, Kennedey Wendt, Carter Jansen, Nick Miller, Wyatt Smith, Chase Lanham, Travis Will, Cassie Vahling,  Julia Frey, Shea Kinkelaar, Ashlyn Jones, Payton Koester, Kiyah Kuhlman, Macy Vogt, Elleigh Gardner, Cassie Fancher, Olivia Marcum, Madison Niebrugge, Abby Flach, Sophia Foster, and Hannah Pruemer.
 
Photo #2: (Left to right) Bryce, Renee, Allison and Brent Buzzard enjoy time together at the Health Occupations Class celebration on May 6 at the Effingham Event Center.  Thanks to the skills Renee learned through the Health Occupations Program, she was able to help save her mom Allison’s life when she experienced a heart attack on April 9 at their home.  Renee performed CPR on her mom for 20 minutes before first responders arrived.

Media Contact

Brad Ochiltree

Manager, Marketing & Communications
HSHS Illinois
Office: (217) 464-1161
bradley.ochiltree@hshs.org

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