COVID-19 won’t stand in the way of a Waverly High School graduate’s dream of becoming a nurse. Ellie Whalen, a 2018 graduate of Waverly and current Lincoln Land Community College nursing student, says that as a nursing student she’s taken each day a day at a time: “You have to take it a day at a time, and just try and learn as much as you can through online [learning]. Hopefully, you can make it up later on this semester. We were fortunate enough to go to clinicals and do other things face-to-face while we socially distanced and have our precautions. It has been really nice this semester [to get to do those things]. We’ve just been doing our best.”
Whalen says that she feels like during this Fall semester that the college and students were more prepared to deal with the restrictions of the pandemic than they were with pandemic’s sudden onset in the Spring.
Through her associate degree nursing program, she has worked directly with COVID-19 patients through her patient care technician position at Memorial Medical Center in Springfield. Whalen says she found that a special program at Waverly High School helped determine her career path: “I’ve always known that I wanted to go into healthcare. We had job shadowed while we were in high school at Memorial Medical Center, and I just fell in love and got intrigued with nursing. I started the process at LLCC. At that time in your life, you’re a beginning college student. You don’t really know what you want to do, but you do. It finally hit me that I wanted to be a nurse when we were going through a lot with a family member’s health, and you look back and you see that the nurse is not only taking care of their patient, they are are taking care of you, as well. That’s just when it hit me. It clicked. This is what I’m going to do with my life and this is going to be my career.”
LLCC and Memorial Health System announced last February a partnership to increase the number of nursing students accepted into LLCC’s nursing program. With $6.1 million in support from MHS, LLCC will admit 90 additional nursing students per year for a total of 215 nursing students annually. Construction continues to renovate Montgomery Hall on the LLCC campus to create an expanded, state-of-the-art nursing center to accommodate this growth.
Whalen says that the challenges the pandemic has brought to the world has only increased her drive to receive her degree that much more: “The longer the pandemic goes on the more and more I want my degree. Healthcare workers are heroes. During this pandemic, they have done a lot for their communities and for the hospitals. I hope they know how much I appreciate them, and I hope they know how much I want to be like them.”
Whalen says she is focused on getting her degree currently and hasn’t decided where she would like to begin her career just yet. However, she says with the number of hospitals and care facilities in Central Illinois, she says they all would be a great choice for anyone starting out as a nurse. According to the Bureau of Health Workforce data, Illinois has the 27th worst numbers in country with nurse to population ration. Currently in Illinois, there are 12.42 nurses to every 1,000 people in the state’s population.