Avera PREP Opens Doors for International Nursing Student
“To be here, I’ve come a long way.”
That’s how 22-year-old Stephanie Donkor begins the story of how she came to be a nursing student at The University of South Dakota and patient care technician at Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center.
Donkor grew up in the West African country of Ghana. At the age of 14, she moved to Qatar in the Middle East with her parents and two younger siblings. After graduating from high school, her desire to travel and become a nurse led her to USD. With the blessing and support of her parents, she made the move – on her own – to a new country and a new culture at the age of 19.
“I’m breaking boundaries in my family because I’ll be the first to become a nurse,” she said. “If I can help someone or even change a life, I’m going to do that. It’s not easy, but I think I can get there.”
Preparing for a Career in Health Care
An important step in Donkor’s journey was accepting an invite to the Avera PREP program during her first year at USD.
Avera PREP is a unique summer experience designed to give college freshmen and sophomores who aspire to a career in health care a backstage pass into Avera’s mission and organization. During the three-day event, students meet and shadow a variety of health care providers. They also get the opportunity to meet with an Avera workforce consultant for tips on career planning and applying for jobs.
During the event, Donkor toured several departments on the Avera McKennan campus, including the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and pulmonary unit which are now the two areas she’s most interested in.
“It was a great opportunity to get insight into the health care field before I started nursing school. It opened my eyes to all of the different opportunities there are within nursing.”
Donkor also learned valuable skills about applying for a job at Avera. And she didn’t wait to put that advice into practice. Later that same day, she applied for a patient care technician job in the short-stay unit at Avera McKennan. She received a job offer and now works every other weekend and picks up extra shifts when she can while attending school full time.
“The Avera PREP program gave me the passion to go for it. It also gave me a foot in the door,” she said.
As a patient care tech, Donkor is cultivating both relationships and skills that’ll set her up for success as a nurse.
“Before becoming a patient care tech, I literally had no skills whatsoever,” she laughed. “They taught me how to do things like monitoring vital signs and blood glucose sugar, but also how to interact and be comfortable with patients. Working at Avera has given me confidence. It’s also helped me with school, especially when things that I’m doing in the short-stay unit appear on my tests."
Donkor radiates gratitude for the opportunities and support she’s received – from her parents, the Avera PREP program, her professors, mentor and Avera Heart Hospital nurse Mary Adebayo, classmates and coworkers, to name a few.
“The nurses at Avera are very down-to-earth and ready to help me with my shortcomings,” she said. “They’re always there to help me when I need anything and I know I can depend on them.
For those interested in pursuing a career in nursing, Donkor offers one piece of advice: “If you enjoy helping people, go for it. You can do it. Because I can, you can do it too.”
Learn more about career opportunities at Avera and Avera’s Career Planning Service.