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Homegrown healthcare heroes a tradition at Gundersen St. Elizabeth's

Tuesday, June 22, 2021



When she was in fifth grade, Carley Sylvester decided she wanted to be a nurse and midwife when she grew up. More specifically, she wanted to be like Sharon Riester – the midwife who delivered her at then-St. Elizabeth's Medical Center in 1997.

The first part of Carley's dream is now coming to fruition; the 23-year-old graduated from nursing school in May and soon after began working as an RN at Gundersen St. Elizabeth's Hospital and Clinics, just steps away from where she was born.

However, Carley isn't a stranger to Gundersen St. Elizabeth's. She started volunteering in the facility as an eighth grader. Upon turning 16, she became a certified nursing assistant and was hired in the St. Elizabeth's Care Center. A couple years later, she joined the med-surg care team as a CNA. That's where she continues care for patients – except now, she's a registered nurse.

"To see the letters RN behind my name is still surreal," Carley says. "It's an incredible feeling to know that I worked so hard to get to this point. During the tough times in nursing school, it was my coworkers at Gundersen St. Elizabeth's who rallied and cheered me on, encouraging me to persevere."

Nurse Manager Monica Walters has watched Carley grow into the nurse she is today.

"When Carley worked as a CNA beside us in med-surg, she was learning skills in real time. She had the chance to work side-by-side nurses during traumas, cardiac events, and pediatric care visits," Monica says. "Through these experiences, Carley learned that at

Gundersen St. Elizabeth's, nobody works in siloes. From start to finish, the care here is holistic."

By the time Carley graduated from nursing school, she had lived in the Twin Cities, La Crosse, and Rochester. But, she decided to return to Wabasha to start her career.

"Wabasha is home to me," Carley says. "The friendliness of this community makes it so special." Monica agrees.

"We love Wabasha because of the quality of life here," Monica says. "We know our neighbors. We know the community. And people living here are actively engaged and vested in the success of each other."

Carley's journey isn't necessarily unique; both Monica and Sharon began their careers at St. Elizabeth's as nursing assistants and both continued their education and learning, with the organization's support.

"Encouragement from St. Elizabeth's surrounded me throughout career changes and leadership roles – as well as when I returned to school each time," Sharon says. She retired from patient care in November 2020 – after 43 years of service. She and her family continue to call Wabasha home.

Carley dreams of continuing learning and growing in her career too – just like Sharon and Monica.

"There's something about Gundersen St. Elizabeth's that you don't find at other places," says Carley. "I've learned so much about how to treat people, how to be my own person, and how to act with respect."

But, for now, her dreams are focused on another major life event. Carley and her fiancé Dalon Miller are getting married in September and plan to call Wabasha home.


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