FDLTCC event aims to recruit future health care professionals

The Nursing and Healthcare Expo had 36 booths for health care and nursing organizations to meet with prospective students and workers.

FDLTCC Health expo nurses
Evan Paulson, right, and Alex Switzer, nursing students at Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College, demonstrate how the medical mannequin "Anne1" works, on Wednesday, Feb. 8.
Dylan Sherman / Cloquet Pine Journal

CLOQUET — The Nursing and HealthCare Expo hosted by Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College looked to recruit more students into health care professions Wednesday, Feb. 8.

Andrea Simek, the college's dean of nursing and health science, said organizers saw an increase in the number of vendors who attended the event — 36 this year when the event usually averages around 20. One of the reasons for the increase is the overall need in the health care industry for more workers, she said.

"One of the main goals is to spread awareness of the job opportunities available to help our community partners recruit employees and staff and fill the shortages they have," she said.

Not only have there been decreases in the health care workforce, but according to Simek, applicants to the college's health care programs also decreased.

However, Simek has started to see an uptick in the college's program applicants in recent months.


"We have a gap, a big gap right now ... currently we need to generate that interest to train people so they are ready," she said. "We need to get more and more people interested and trained to work in these professions so that we can shrink that gap in the future."

One of the reasons Simek believes interest has waned in the past couple of years is because high school students saw the strain health care workers went through during the height of the pandemic.

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"COVID really impacted public interest and confidence going into health care," she said. "As we are returning back to normal, people are now thinking about entering into health care professions again, and we are seeing enrollment in the nursing program picking up again."

The expo was open to high school tours, college students and others who are interested in learning about businesses in the area, as well as degrees offered by the college.

Vendors at the event included included hospitals, human services organizations, emergency medical technicians and more.

Simek said the event is also an opportunity to show the younger generation that health care isn't just frontline workers, but also work in nursing and care homes, and social work.

"If they are interested in health care, it is not just nursing — there are so many options for young people that they don't even know about," Simek said.

While the event offered the chance for current students expecting to graduate in May the chance to speak to possible employers, it also had booths dedicated to four-year college and graduate programs to meet students interested in transferring.


Making connections

For Jenn Capra, director of nursing at Sunnyside Health Care Center, the health care expo gives Community Memorial Hospital a chance to show students what is available to them in the community.

Sunnyside faces its own staffing issues, which has caused leaders to limit new admissions to the nursing home, Capra said.

"People are leaving health care in general. It has nothing to do with organizations being bad ... it is how people are feeling internally after COVID," she said.

Attendees visit the 36 vendors at Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College's nursing and health care expo, on Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023.
Dylan Sherman / Cloquet Pine Journal

With a good number of attendees being high school students, Capra said the event doesn't always lead to new hires, but rather the opportunity to make connections with interested students and give them shadowing opportunities.

Stepping into a student's shoes

Attendees also had the chance to tour the college's nursing facilities and see how instructors use various types of medical equipment to teach students.

Alex Switzer and Evan Paulson, two nursing students, showed people around the nursing facility and explained how work was done.


Paulson showed off "Anne1" a medical mannequin that students practice procedures on. Instructors can change everything from the way the mannequin breathes to its heartbeat responses and more.

Alex Switzer, a nursing student at Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College, changes the respiration options on the program's medical mannequin, on Wednesday, Feb. 8.
Dylan Sherman / Cloquet Pine Journal

Attendees are sometimes hesitant to fully enter the room and interact with the mannequin, which Paulson said could be because of the lifelike features that allow the mannequin to blink and breathe.

The room features a two-way mirror for instructors to watch students, not only to evaluate, but also to alter the diagnoses on the mannequin and speak through a speaker in its mouth.

Lauren Faherty, career center coordinator for Denfeld High School, brought high school students to the event, some of whom have an interest in health care.

Local colleges like FDLTCC offer lower tuition, scholarships and transfer programs that are of interest to Faherty's students.

"For some of our students, just envisioning themselves physically in the campus and seeing themselves there, they can then imagine that post-high school life," she said. "It is important to get them out of the high school and bring them out into the world and see what life can look like when they graduate."

Dylan covers the local governments of Cloquet and Carlton County, as well as the Esko and Wrenshall school boards for the Cloquet Pine Journal.
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