The Next Best Thing

Four Practical Nursing graduates take the RN path at two metro area hospitals

If you take a couple minutes and do a little research on what it means to be a nurse in a modern health care setting, you will probably run across this quote from a grateful patient: “Nurses may not be angels, but they are the next best thing.”

Minneapolis VA Health Care SystemTaught by true-blue nurses with years on years of real-world experience in long-term and acute care, including but not limited to medical and surgical units, orthopedics, ER and obstetrics, Practical Nursing is one of Dakota County Technical College’s flagship programs. Through classroom learning, simulated client care and instructor-supervised clinical experiences, graduates are equipped with the knowledge and skills to administer safe, ethical, patient-centered nursing care in traditional and alternative health care environments.

Fairview Ridges Hospital“We have a preceptorship capstone clinical that places our students with nurses in the workplace,” said DiAnn Zimmerman, former director of the PN program at DCTC. “It’s an invaluable learning tool for our students right before they graduate. Our program has a one hundred percent State Board (NCLEX) pass rate for the past three quarters. That’s a great accomplishment for our students.”

Here’s a brief look at four of the Practical Nursing program’s most dedicated and successful alumni. Two work for the Minneapolis VA Health Care System. They love their jobs and also happen to be best of friends. Two work at Fairview Ridges Hospital in Burnsville, Minn. They also love their jobs and also happen to be best of friends.

 Meghan Kaphing  & Jackie Auge

Meghan Kaphing and Jackie Auge | LPNs with the Minneapolis VA Health Care System

 Meghan Kaphing

Meghan Kaphing | LPN with the Minneapolis VA Health Care System

  • Age: 26
  • Hometown: Hastings, Minn.
  • Rosemount High School | Class of 2003
  • Graduated RN program at Southeast Technical College in Red Wing, Minn., May 2011
    • Passed her RN licensure exam (“the boards”) July 2011
    • Pursuing BSN at Walden University
    • Recreation: Loves to run
    • Married to Brian Kaphing
      • Minnesota National Guard veteran with deployments to Kosovo (once) and Iraq (twice)
      • Also pursuing BSN, Globe University
  • Meghan’s memorable quote: “The nice thing about the VA is that everyone works as a team. Everyone brainstorms together.”

Meghan Kaphing completed her generals at Inver Hills Community College before enrolling in the Practical Nursing program in 2005. She graduated in fall 2007. Nursing was something Meghan always wanted to do (her aunt is an OB nurse). She took to the program immediately, actually recording instructor lectures so she could listen to them again while she worked out at home.

“I loved it,” she said. “It’s a fantastic program. There was so much information to learn. It just fascinated me. I did not mind studying. I’m a nerd like that.”

One thing Meghan really appreciated was the professionalism and commitment of the program’s instructors. “The instructors are always willing to go above and beyond,” she said, recalling how PN faculty always put students first, sitting down with them one on one to go over difficult coursework, often for a half hour or forty-five minutes at a time.

Meghan Kaphing | LPN with the Minneapolis VA Health Care SystemDuring her two years at DCTC, Meghan completed a full range of clinicals, the experiential part of the program that involves working with patients at a nursing home or hospital. She did her first clinical at Augustana Health Care Center in Hastings before going on to gain experience at Bethesda and United hospitals, both in St. Paul and both for med/surg, or medical/surgery, and Fairview Ridges for OB.

Meghan completed her 80-hour preceptorship, her last clinical, at the MVAHCS on the Polytrauma Unit. More than anything she wanted to get an LPN position at the VA. With a letter of recommendation from her preceptor, Meghan got her wish in June 2008 and got married two months later. Her work on Ward 1E involves caring for patients recovering from surgery as well as patients with chronic illnesses, including cancer and diabetes.

“We take patients that need a little extra time to adjust before going home,” she said. “We have patients on our ward for thirty days all the way up to a year. We get to know them and their families. Interacting with patients is the best part of my job.”

Jackie Auge

Jackie Auge | LPN with the Minneapolis VA Health Care System

  • Age: 24
  • Hometown: South St. Paul, Minn.
  • Henry-Sibley High School | Class of 2005
  • Starting RN program at St. Catherine University fall 2011
  • Recreation: Loves to walk her family’s shepherd-lab rescue, Gracie
    • “She’s a good girl most of the time.”
    • Newly married (Sept. 24, 2011) to John Ollom
      • Works at family appliance repair shop in South St. Paul
      • Family lives block and a half away from shop
  • Jackie’s memorable quote: “We are the infantry.”

“Even as a little kid I knew I wanted to be a nurse,” said Jackie Auge, who completed her generals at Normandale Community College. “If my brothers had to go to the hospital, I would say, ‘Can I come?’ My brother broke his arm and I was right there helping them wrap it. It was cool. Most little kids don’t like the hospital.”

Jackie started at DCTC in 2008. She met with Pat Lair, the college’s admissions, recruitment and outreach director, who made things super easy to enroll. She remembers how she was assigned a specific advisor who helped get everything organized and put her at ease.

“You go to any other college and you get a general advisor. How can they know every program, every loophole, every twist?” she said. “At DCTC, the advisor makes it simple. You go here for your LPN, here for your RN and here for your BSN.”

Jackie Auge | LPN with the Minneapolis VA Health Care System

Like her friend Meghan, Jackie appreciated the great instructors at DCTC. “You felt like you mattered,” she said. “They were tough, but it was tough love. They want you to succeed. Bottom line, the instructors really care about you.”

Jackie did her clinicals at the Trinity Care Center in Farmington, Minn., the MVAHCS and Fairview Ridges. She graduated from DCTC in 2009 and got pinned in May 2010—the Practical Nursing Pinning Ceremony at DCTC in one of highlights of the academic year. She started as an LPN on Ward 1E two years after Meghan.

“I love working directly with patients,” Jackie said. “I like seeing them getting better and going home.”

Following in Meghan’s career path, she is looking to earn her BSN after graduating from St. Kate’s and passing her RN board exams. Jackie views nursing as a lifelong passion.

“If you want to be successful, you have to put your heart and soul into it,” she said. “If you want to be a nurse, you just make it work.”

“Jackie and Meghan are both topnotch nurses! They were hired as new graduate LPNs from Dakota County Technical College and are valued employees of the Minneapolis VA Health Care System. Jackie and Meghan are highly respected by their peers for their strong nursing skills and for the kindness and compassion they display to the Community Living Center residents and their coworkers. Great job to the faculty at DCTC for setting a foundation for these two wonderful nurses!” — Wendy Barlow, RN, Co-Director, Community Living Center, MVAHCS

Nichole Olson & Cristina Vielleux

Nichole Olson and Cristina Vielleux | LPNs at Fairview Ridges Hospital

 Nichole Olson

Nichole Olson | LPN at Fairview Ridges Hospital

  • Age: 31
  • Hometown: Farmington, Minn.
  • Farmington High School | Class of 1998
  • Starting RN program at St. Catherine University February 2012
  • Recreation: Dances the Zumba at Lifetime and local clubs with Cristina
    • Their daughters take swimming lessons together
    • Married to Robb Olson
      • Owns flooring and mural business
      • Featured on DIY Network
      • Couple have 3-year-old daughter, Haley
  • Nichole’s memorable quote: “As RNs with LPN experience, we’ll see the whole picture.”

After graduating from high school, Nichole Olson enrolled at Aveda Institute in Minneapolis with plans to become a cosmetologist. Before Nichole could get established in her new profession, the 9/11 terrorist attacks sent shock waves through the U.S. economy, causing people to curtail spending on nonessentials, a repercussion that knocked the bottom out of her career.

In 2004, she switched gears and aimed her sights on nursing, taking her generals at both DCTC and Inver Hills Community College. She got on a long waiting list for the DCTC Practical Nursing program, but that didn’t slow her down.

“There were thirty people ahead of me on the waiting list,” she said, “but bing, bing, bing, everybody dropped out and I got in right away.”

Nichole Olson | LPN at Fairview Ridges HospitalShe graduated in 2006, having taken RN-level anatomy, physiology and microbiology courses to streamline the path to her LPN license. She went to work for Ebenezer Ridges in Burnsville, Minn. In 2007, she moved to Fairview Ridges as the first person hired in what was termed an alternate role. That new role was designed to expand the duties of LPNs in response to changes in state regulations.

“Today, an LPN is paired with an RN,” said Nichole, who recently won the Excellence in Nursing Care award as the best LPN on her floor. “We work as a team and are responsible for six patients on our floor.” Patients are typically recovering from surgery with their hospital stays lasting around three to four days.

Because Nichole is on the RN track, she returned to DCTC and completed more general education courses. She starts the 11-month RN program at St. Kate’s in February 2012. Fairview offers tuition reimbursement. She’ll eventually complete her BSN through St. Kate’s.

“Cristina and I look forward to working as RNs on our floor at Fairview Ridges,” Nichole said with a smile. “That’s our goal.”

Cristina Vielleux

Cristina Vielleux | LPN at Fairview Ridges Hospital

  • Age: 38
  • Hometown: Trujillo, Peru, capital of La Libertad Region
  • Licco Trujillo High School | Class of 1990
  • Starting RN program at St. Catherine University February 2012
  • Recreation: Does Zumba at Lifetime and local clubs with Nichole
    • Their daughters take swimming lessons together
    • Married to Peter Vielleux
      • Electrical engineer
      • Couple have 2-year-old daughter, Isabella
  • Cristina’s memorable quote: “I like the floor!”

In 1999, Cristina Vielleux graduated from Santo Tomás de Aquino, a private school for girls in Trujillo, the third largest city in Peru, with a bachelor’s degree in education and plans to become a grammar teacher.

At age 26, she traveled to Apple Valley, Minn., as an au pair. Her goal was to learn English and return to Peru and with the skill set to teach in an elite private school.

“It was scary when I first got to the United States,” Cristina said. “My English wasn’t very good. I was thinking you guys are the fastest speakers in all the world. The mother in my host family started writing things down for me and that helped a lot. She’s a nurse, too.”

Cristina Vielleux | LPN at Fairview Ridges Hospital

She took English Essentials and English Composition at DCTC to improve her language skills. In 2004, she enrolled in the Practical Nursing program. Three years later, she started as an LPN at Fairview Ridges and met Nichole Olson (they work the same evening schedule). The two have been fast friends ever since.

One aspect of Cristina’s life as an LPN at Fairview is serving as a preceptor to students from the DCTC Practical Nursing program. Twice a year, Jean Carson, an instructor in the program, contacts her and Nicole to make arrangements. The students come to the hospital and get invaluable experience on an actual general surgery unit working with real patients. They also benefit from the insights and wisdom of LPNs who love nursing and excel at it.

Cristina recently graduated from the RN program at Normandale Community College. She prepared like crazy for her boards, which by all accounts are extremely difficult. She passed with flying colors in fall 2011. Like Nichole, she is on the BSN track.

“I like the fact that being in this role as an LPN helps us visualize our future as RNs,” she said. “We learn so much being here in the hospital and working with patients.”

“Our LPNs tend to be very upwardly mobile, good critical thinkers and we really appreciate having them. When other hospitals were ‘downsizing’ their LPNs a few years ago to cut costs, at Fairview Ridges Hospital we developed a team model that included LPNs. We hoped that patients would be able to tell their families, ‘I have TWO nurses taking care of me!’  I believe that the practice of nursing is best developed as an apprenticeship; this is clearly demonstrated in the careful efficient care Nichole, Cristina and others here are able to give. It really says something when our own staff members entrust their family members to us routinely.” — Julie Hedeen RN BSN, Assistant Nurse Manager, 2 General Surgery and Ortho, Fairview Ridges Hospital

For more information about the Practical Nursing program, contact:

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