Early career spotlight: One student’s journey to become a physician assistant

June 10, 2019

This paid piece is sponsored by the Sioux Falls Development Foundation.

Makenzie Haensel is no stranger to challenging, new adventures, and she’s about to embark upon one such opportunity yet again.

This fall, Haensel, 23, is one of 26 students who will pursue a physician assistant, or PA, degree at the University of South Dakota, a highly competitive program that routinely admits approximately 26 students per year, which amounts to accepting just 2.5 percent of applicants. With a 16.9 percent population increase in Sioux Falls since 2010, Makenzie’s chosen career path is also critical to the area’s growth, as hospitals are increasing care for more patients.

What sets Haensel apart, though, is not merely her acceptance to USD’s competitive program or filling one of our area’s most critical jobs, but also her pathway to achieving her goals.

A first-generation college student, Haensel calls Hartford home, and while she enjoys traveling, feeling a sense of home in South Dakota has never wavered. In fact, Haensel turned down full-ride scholarship offers in other states and instead pursued post-secondary studies in cardiac and vascular ultrasound technology at Southeast Technical Institute. She points to Southeast Tech’s high job placement rates and feeling a sense of home in Sioux Falls as key in her decision to pursue a technical school education.

“I knew that I wanted to stay home in South Dakota because this is where I’ve made connections in the community,” Haensel said. “It’s the connections and having those relationships with people that encouraged me to stay in South Dakota. With the other schools, it just never felt right – it never felt like home. By studying at Southeast Tech, I knew that I would be able to work in my field, gain experience and take steps on my path to PA school.”

Through the guidance of her academic adviser at Southeast Tech, Haensel’s pathway became even more unique. While she excelled in her ultrasound studies at Southeast Tech, she quickly felt the desire to do something more within the health care field. So in 2017, Haensel completed her associate of applied science studies at Southeast Tech while simultaneously earning a bachelor’s degree in health science at USD. She earned both degrees and passed her required board examinations in cardiac and vascular ultrasound technology in 2017 and 2018, respectively.

Never one to shy away from a challenge, Haensel also worked nearly full time for Avera McKennan as she completed her schooling. She points to the opportunity to job-shadow at Avera in a variety of health care tracks, including cardiology, trauma surgery, radiology and OB/GYN, as well as the mentorship of Mick Gibbs, the president of the Avera Heart Hospital, in helping her pursue her chief passion: the opportunity to care for patients.

“My path isn’t exactly the straightest between point A and point B, but I don’t think that without some of those zigzags in between that I would have the connections or the opportunities I have now,” Haensel said. “I knew that a four-year university wasn’t for me, to start with, and while I could have taken other paths, such as medical school, I knew that if I pursued each step to getting me where I wanted to be, I could still achieve my goals. I feel like I am where I am meant to be.”

So what’s next for Haensel after graduation in 2021? She desires to continue working with Avera, calling the organization “home,” which represents a new cultural alignment most organizations look to bridge with younger generations such as Generation Z.

“We will start seeing more employees opt for cultural fit and alignment as the deciding factor for choosing an employer, which is why organizational brand is so important when recruiting talent,” according to Denise Guzzetta, vice president of talent and workforce development for the Sioux Falls Development Foundation.

Early career spotlight: One student’s journey to become a physician assistant

Only 26 students are accepted to the highly competitive physician assistant program at USD. Here’s the path this woman took to become one of them.

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