When Molly Reeter was a student at Vandalia High School (Class of 2017) she knew that she wanted to help people, but she wasn’t sure how. In her mind, it usually boiled down to becoming either an educator—like both her parents, Beth and Brian Kern— or a nurse. She decided to dip her toe in the waters of healthcare by enrolling in the Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) Program at Okaw Vocational Center, and loved it.
Upon completion of the CNA program and graduation from VHS, Molly left Vandalia and headed to Jacksonville where she earned her nursing degree. After college, Molly worked as a nurse at nearby Greenville Hospital for two years, where she quickly rose up the ranks and became a charge nurse (shift leader). Never one to stand still, Molly took a teaching certificate course, and in her current role combines her two loves: education and nursing.
Ms. Reeter heads up the CNA program at Okaw and also teaches a healthcare careers course for juniors and seniors. You could say that Molly has come full circle, as she has assumed the role from her own teacher, Ms. Steele, who recently retired. Before she left, Ms. Steele was able to share some of her knowledge and experience with her young protege, and Molly appreciated that opportunity to learn about the role from a teacher’s perspective. We can hear the respect and reverence that Molly has for her teacher and can see that she takes pride in being able to carry on her work. Molly is also super proud of her CNA students, the majority of whom sit for the exam and receive certification from the State of Illinois.
Nursing and related healthcare jobs may have suffered a hit since the worst of the Covid pandemic ended, and many nurses were understandably burned out and either retired or switched careers. Ms. Reeter, however, is very optimistic about the field making a comeback. As such, she knows that her CNA graduates will have ample opportunities awaiting them when they complete their program. CNA is a popular post-secondary career choice because demand is high and one can work in a variety of settings, often with some flexibility in hours.
However, most Okaw students use the CNA as a stepping stone to other careers in healthcare—including Licensed Nursing Assistant (LNA), nurse, or nurse practitioner for example. Molly believes that CNAs, in particular, will have job security well into the future. While other aspects of the healthcare system may become more and more shaped by technology and artificial intelligence (AI), the personal, human touch cannot be replaced by tech. In fact, older patients in particular, will settle for nothing less.
The health careers course she teaches for juniors and seniors is meant to expose students to a variety of options in the field— even extending to dentistry and veterinary school. As part of the course, students get shadow professionals in different jobs and get a hands-on understanding of the work.
Coming back to work in Vandalia has been wonderful for Molly. Even after four years away at college and another two working at the hospital, returning to her old schools felt seamless—almost like she never left. The very warm and enthusiastic welcome she received confirmed that she had made the right choice. Having lived in Vandalia her whole life, she wanted to return to this special town where people really care about and help each other. There are not too many places in the world that really retain that sincere community spirit. It seems to us that Vandalia itself, as well as loving and supportive parents, had a big influence on Molly becoming such a caring and empathetic person. Science has shown that empathy is one of the most important characteristics of successful leaders and happy humans.
When asked what she might have advised 15-year-old Molly, she says: “To be less shy, less concerned about what other people think.” She talks about how her shyness stood in the way of gaining more confidence as a teenager. As is often the case, she found that going away to college in a new place actually helped her break out of her shyness, since she was less concerned about what new people might think. The confidence that she gained during that period of her life has proven invaluable throughout her career. We discuss the fact that confidence is so necessary to becoming a leader. However, it may just be that we can only grow into some of these skills with time and life experience. In the meantime, it is OK to try new things and fail because that is really key to learning.
It is encouraging to know that Vandalia’s own Molly Reeter will be able to help encourage her students—our students—to be more confident, empathetic leaders. If they follow her lead then the future seems very bright indeed.