CVTC Speeds Up Graduation as Hospital Opens

Radiography grads ready weeks earlier than expected

Friday, August 3, 2018
Photo of CVTC Speeds Up Graduation as Hospital Opens

Amber Williams, who is originally from Gilman, adjusts an X-Ray machine at the new Marshfield Clinic hospital in Eau Claire while co-worker Cacie Michels, a Chippewa Falls McDonell High School graduate, looks on. The two were among 24 graduates of the CVTC Radiography program honored at the summer commencement.

The students were unanimous in their agreement, even though what they were being asked to do amounted to a daunting challenge. They were one semester and a summer internship away from graduation from Chippewa Valley Technical College’s Radiography program.

They had been asked to start their internships early while still burdened by the work of their core classes, and finish by June 22 instead of Aug. 2. The 24 students agreed to take on the challenge, and their reward has been virtually all of the graduates finding jobs before their official graduation date. Four of them are now working at the new Marshfield Clinic hospital in Eau Claire, whose opening this summer created a great need for radiologic technologists.

The 24 Radiography graduates were among 160 graduates in 30 programs honored at CVTC’s summer commencement ceremony Thursday, Aug. 2. Radiography was the largest group, while Manufacturing Quality program graduated 18, and Cosmetology, Diagnostic Medical Sonography and Welding each graduated 15.

“We had a discussion late last fall with Marshfield Clinic’s radiology manager on how many people he needed,” said Deb Kjelstad, CVTC Radiography program director. “He said he was going to hire 22 technicians and needed some boots on the ground by June 22. But we didn’t graduate until Aug. 2.”

Executive Dean of Health and Emergency Services Shelly Olson went to CVTC Vice President of Instruction Julie Furst-Bowe. “Julie said, ‘Meet the needs. Figure out how to get it done,” Olson said.

“I went to the students and told them they all had to agree if we were going to do this.” Kjelstad said. “Not one of them hesitated.”

But they were a bit apprehensive.

“I was terrified,” said Casie Michels, a 2007 Chippewa Falls McDonell graduate now living in Fall Creek. “I was pregnant when they told me. I never imagined that I would graduate sooner than August. We all had to agree, and I wasn’t going to be the one to say no. We made it work.”

“I was super-excited to start my career early,” said Amber Williams, a 2005 Gilman High School graduate. “I was nervous. It was a lot of work, but it was very much worth it.”

Students had to start their internships April 30 instead of June 11, and it meant they would get no break after the end of spring semester classes, Kjelstad explained.

“We had to communicate with the internship sites early on,” Olson said. “We worked with 18 different sites, and it affected more than the interns. Many of the sites have first-years students in for clinicals. We had to adjust their schedules too. This was unprecedented, but we had a lot of help, and the students really buckled down.”

“It was absolutely important that CVTC recognized the need and accelerated the program,” said Kristian Monson, regional radiography manager for Marshfield Clinic. “Almost everyone we brought in at radiology came through the CVTC program at some point. They are from the region and want to stay in the region.”

The need for CVTC to produce the graduates early extended beyond Marshfield Clinic’s new hospital. The increased needs led to movement of medical professionals between the healthcare providers. The 2018 CVTC graduates filled positions created throughout the market.

“The acceleration of CVTC’s program was critical for us,” said Ken Brown, director of imaging for Hospital Sisters Health Systems, which operates Sacred Heart Hospital in Eau Claire and St. Joseph’s Hospital in Chippewa Falls. “The market was very tight and there was a lot of movement to meet the overall community needs. CVTC’s action was very beneficial to our ministry and the patients we serve. CVTC does such a good job of turning out top-notch students.”

HSHS hired four of the new graduates.

“I am a Marshfield Clinic patient, and my children too,” said Michels, who sought out a position at the new Marshfield Clinic hospital. “I know the standards of care they have. It’s amazing here. I never imagined I would graduate and start a full-time job in a brand-new facility.”

“This was my first choice,” Williams said. “I knew it would be great to be here at the beginning of the hospital. I love it here. Everyone is so nice.”