From Highlands Ranch HS to Healthcare Frontlines

From Highlands Ranch High School to Healthcare Frontlines
Posted on 09/10/2021

From Highlands Ranch High School to Healthcare Frontlines

Megan Dierker, CNA, graduated from Highlands Ranch High School (HRHS) in 2014. The former HRHS Falcon now soars on the frontlines of healthcare, lifted up by her education and experiences at the Douglas County School District (DCSD).

First off, what kind of work are you doing?

Right now, I am a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) at the University of Colorado (CU) Health Anschutz campus. I work in the medical Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and, since the pandemic started, the COVID ICU. I have been working there for over two and a half years now. I’m also applying to Physician’s Assistant (PA) school and will hopefully start that next year in 2022.

I am in charge of helping reposition the patients every two hours. I clean them up, make sure they’re bathed, and, if they are awake, answer call lights with anything they need. I also help the nurses in getting blood sugar levels and helping them draw labs. The nurses do a lot of delegating to the CNAs.

What have the past couple of years been like for you?

With the past year and the pandemic, things have been a lot more crazy than usual. The hospitals are all short-staffed, as I’m sure a lot of people have heard, so I’ve been picking up slack and helping out more. Everyone has to take their turn to go to the COVID ICU to help out.

How have you been juggling the extra work and making it through?

I feel like there are a lot of tough moments and hard moments, but you have to focus on the good ones that come out of it, like the people you watch get better. We don’t necessarily always see them walk off the unit and go home, but getting out of the ICU to a less intense unit in the hospital is always a good thing.

Also, building relationships with the patients and their families definitely makes it all worth it. Just having awesome coworkers and people you can talk to makes a difference. I feel the unit I work on is especially supportive. We use a lot of teamwork. I feel like I can count on them and definitely want them to feel they can count on me too. Having good support systems has definitely helped me get through the tough times.

Did you always want to work in the ICU?

I knew I wanted to be in acute care. I was in the hospital ICU for a little bit after an accident during my junior year of college in 2017. Having that experience myself solidified things for me. After that happened, I was dead set on working in the ICU and helping people in hard situations when they are at their most vulnerable. It definitely feels like the work I’m doing is beneficial and is going towards something.

Did you want to enter healthcare after you graduated from HRHS?

A couple of other careers were on my radar when I was sent to college. Still, I didn’t fully decide to dive into healthcare until my sophomore year. It just took off from there.

Thinking back on high school, what’s your fondest memory from that time?

That’s a hard question! I feel like there were a lot of great memories. I still have two of my best friends from HRHS. We even went to Cresthill Middle School together. We kept our relationships going, which is just amazing.

When I was at HRHS, I was on the volleyball team and the National Honor Society. I was also involved in the National Art Honor Society. During my senior year, I was selected as one of five students to go to the Larimer Chalk Art Festival. It was a two-day event. We even won the People’s Choice Award, even though there were a lot of older artists who were participating. It was an honor to be selected for that because it was such a fun experience!

How does your experience with art relate to working in healthcare?

I feel that in the hospital, you have to be creative to solve problems, like making patients feel more at home and comfortable. Just things to brighten their day. As a team, we’re constantly brainstorming creative things together, sometimes on the spot.

Do you ever use art to decompress?

I've painted here and there during COVID for fun. I would say art is relaxing in a good way and can take your mind off the troubles of the world.

Did any of your activities in high school prepare you mentally or emotionally for your work as a CNA?

Yes, I was very focused on academics, which helped me build diligence and persistence. Volleyball helped me develop teamwork skills, acting as a leader, and responding under pressure. I’d say everything helped me prepare for where I am today.

Besides PA school, is there anything else you’re hoping to do in the future?

That’s the biggest thing! It will be another two or three years, depending on the program, and then I hope to get a job and do that for many more years.

What would be your advice to a high school student who is considering a career in healthcare?

I would say that it’s an incredibly rewarding career to follow, just helping people and making their day. It could be what I’m doing as a CNA, more hands-on, or even something like becoming a doctor or a PA. Then you’re actually saving their lives and making decisions to help them. I feel healthcare gives you purpose, and that won’t ever go away. All the hard work pays off, and it’s definitely worth it in the end.

Thanks for chatting with me, Megan!


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