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As an LPN in a nursing home for 16 years, Helen Wamstad* has seen just about everything, including fairly rapid turnover when it comes to administrators at Tri-County Nursing Home in Hatton.
It was when an interim administrator left the nursing home four years ago for a job in Minnesota that Wamstad stood up and took notice.
“I read an article in a newspaper that said he was going to be paid $85,000,” she recalled. “I was like, what the heck? I’m working as hard as he is and I’m sure I know as much about this business as he does.”
Knowing that her opinion wouldn’t hold much water unless she had something tangible to back it up, Wamstad started pondering her career options. Should she become an RN? Or should she make the switch to administration?
She wasn’t sure, but she knew she wanted to keep that newspaper article. So she dug it up again to clip it out, and that’s when she saw it: An advertisement in the same newspaper touting the University of Minnesota, Crookston’s online program.
“What really jumped out at me was how accepting it was as far as transferring credits from other colleges,” Wamstad recalled. “I drove to UMC and said I wanted to talk to someone about it.”
The “someone” she was directed to was Dr. David Seyfried, who oversees the Bachelor of Applied Health online bachelor degree program at UMC. It’s the first and only such four-year degree offered by the University of Minnesota system.
Fast-forward to about five years later, this past May to be exact, and Wamstad, a 54-year-old grandmother, graduated with a bachelor of applied health degree from UMC’s online program. She made it a point to attend UMC’s graduation ceremony and walk across the stage to get her degree, along with hundreds of other UMC graduates who earned their degrees the old-fashioned way, in the classroom.
“My mom is 75, and I wanted her to see me walk across the stage,” Wamstad said. “I wanted her to see that I had finally done it. I had my bachelor’s degree.”
Currently, Wamstad is in the middle of her required, 480-hour administrative internship at Valley Memorial Homes in Grand Forks. She’s shadowing an administrator there, and learning valuable lessons along the way. She has to travel to Grand Forks, she explained, because “not just any administrator will cut it” when it comes to a qualifying an intern. “The administrator you follow has to have certain credentials, and not all of them do,” Wamstad said.
The internship has been a wonderful experience, she added.
“When I’m finished, the sky’s the limit as far as I’m concerned,” she said, adding that she’s checking healthcare employment websites, healthcare associations and other job sites for potential employment opportunities.
“I’m doing a lot of Internet surfing and making as many contacts as I can,” she said.
The fact that UMC so readily accepted other college credits was a critical factor for Wamstad, who describes herself as a “lifelong learner” who’s taken classes at several universities over the years.
“I’ve always loved school, but I never really had much focus as far as what I wanted to do or where I wanted my career to go,” she explained. “But when you’re in your fifties, you don’t want to lose a bunch of credits and have to go to school for seven more years. I’d taken a lot of classes over the years and I didn’t think I should have to start over.”
After talking with Seyfried and realizing that the vast majority of her credits would indeed transfer, everything came into focus. She still wanted to work with the elderly in a healthcare environment, but she didn’t want to be a “hands-on caregiver” any longer, and she needed a bachelor of applied health degree to make it happen.
Wamstad started off by taking one semester of classes on campus, something she describes as an “awesome” experience.
“It was so much fun to be on campus with the young people; I think I kind of mother-henned them a little,” she recalled. “But I think I gave everyone a little reality check, too.”
Including the instructor.
“In one lecture she told the class about this form used for rates and other things, and at the next class I brought a manual from work that is used to complete those forms, and it blew everyone’s mind,” Wamstad said. “I think I brought some real-world perspective from the healthcare industry.”
For anyone who’s uneasy about taking online classes because they don’t think they possess the necessary computer skills, Wamstad should be their inspiration.
“Back when I started, I’d had a home computer for a few months and I could save files, most of the time successfully,” she recalled. “But that was about it. I was so nervous about the technology.”
Not wanting to lose some of the large files involved with studying online, Wamstad said she “finally splurged” and replaced her dial-up Internet connection with a high-speed, digital connection. That proved to be half the battle…half.
“Oh, Lord, at the beginning you bet I was intimidated. When I started I could barely turn a computer on,” she said. “But I got wonderful help and tech support when I needed it, and before I knew it, I was tech-savvy.”
Wamstad would visit the UMC campus now and then “just to keep in touch.” Seyfried, who lives near Hatton, also made a couple of trips to deliver text materials to her. “It was a wonderful gesture,” Wamstad said.
The hardest class she took was statistics. Fearing her grade point average would suffer, she sought a tutor by posting a message on a bulletin board at Mayville State University a few miles down the road from Hatton. In the end, she was tutored during the day by a female student at UMC and for a couple hours in the evening by a male MSU student. She ended up getting an A in stats.
When Wamstad started the UMC online BAH program, she could sense that her colleagues at the nursing home “didn’t really respect” her method of pursuing a four-year college degree. “If I said I had a test in the morning to study for, it’s like they didn’t think it was real,” she recalled. “Let me tell you, it’s real. It’s a big commitment. Now my co-workers know it’s real, and I think online learning is more accepted by the general public than ever before.”
She loved it all so much she wishes UMC had an online master’s degree program. “If it’s as good as the bachelor of applied health program, I’d sign up in a minute,” Wamstad said. “UMC is an absolute goldmine.”
For more information on the Bachelor of Applied Health log on to: www.umcrookston.edu/cal or (800) 862 6466 ext 8679
*Wamstad is a 2005 graduate of UMC.