Berks practical nursing students graduate

A nurse leans over a mannequin to demonstrate a medical technique

Erica Walton, a nurse educator at Penn State Health St. Joseph, demonstrates a heart technique on a high-tech mannequin, in a photo taken prior to the pandemic.

Credit: Provided

WYOMISSING, Pa. — Amber Breidegam and Kimberly Henrich were surprised to see each other when they began the Practical Nursing Program at Penn State Berks in August 2019. Fate brought them together as Breidegam’s grandmother, a hospice care client, was visited and cared for by Henrich before her death. Breidegam attributes the fact that they enrolled in the same program as a sign that her grandmother was watching over them. Over the course of the program, they supported each other and formed a strong friendship that will endure beyond graduation, which was held on Nov. 20.

This is just one of the stories of the 18 students who began their studies in August 2019, working for 18-months in both the classroom and at various clinical facilities in the area. The part-time evening and weekend Practical Nursing Program is unique from other nursing programs because it allows students to keep their day jobs: They attend class three evenings a week, as well as every other weekend, and achieve their dream of becoming a nurse in just 18 months. Upon completion of the program, students will be able to take the National Council Licensure Examination-Practical Nursing (NCLEX-PN) for state licensure.

In partnership with Penn State Health St. Joseph Downtown Reading campus, practical nursing students have access to their nursing simulation lab, offering a learning environment that mimics real-life clinical scenarios. The lab features electronic mannequins and clinical program applications to augment clinical skills, improve patient outcomes, enhance clinical competence and increase clinical teamwork.

The high-tech mannequins cover the age span of nursing care, from newborn to adult, and simulate a variety of patient experiences, including stroke, chest pains and childbirth. Clinical simulation is proven to strengthen critical-thinking skills and decision-making.

The State Board of Nursing approved the Penn State Berks Practical Nursing Program as a satellite of the Penn State Lehigh Valley Practical Nursing Program.

Erin N. Whisler, clinical instructor in the college’s practical nursing program, was the keynote speaker for the event. In addition to her role at the college, Whisler is employed at the Ophthalmology Center at Penn State Hershey Medical Center. She earned a bachelor of science in nursing from Cedar Crest College and a bachelor of arts in anthropology, with a minor in psychology, from Kutztown University.  

The graduates include Latoya C. Aponte, Brittnee M. Boyer, Amber R. Breidegam, Niesha N. Frederick, Briana E. Glick, Krystal A. Griffith, Alyssa Himmelberger, Daphne M. Heiser, Kimberly A. Henrich, Ashley A. Hurwitz, Carissa M. Jones, Brandi Maddox, Maria O. Melendez, Diana M. Moyer, Jacquelyn E. O’Brien, Rachel Ojeda, Bianca S. Ramirez-Cruz and Michelle Rivas.

Penn State Berks is currently accepting applications for the August 2021 cohort of the Practical Nursing Program. To register for a virtual information session, select a TEAS testing date, or learn how to apply, visit the practical nursing webpage. For more information, contact Elaine Berish, continuing education program associate, at [email protected] or 610-396-6230.