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The College of St. Scholastica

In 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic upended his final months of high school, Luke Wessberg ’24 found a productive way to utilize his extra time: “A lot of people can’t believe it, but during the pandemic, I got a job,” Wessberg said. “It was my senior year of high school, and I didn’t have in-person classes, so I started working at Benedictine Living Community in Duluth (BLCD).” Four years later, as he graduates with his bachelor’s degree in management with a concentration in healthcare administration, Wessberg can already see how his hard work and focus paved the way for a headstart in his career.

Photo of Luke WessbergStarting as a culinary aid at Benedictine, Wessberg gained experience at the organization and ultimately embraced the opportunity to assist in various positions. Over the course of his four years at BLCD, he logged over 2,500 direct care hours as a resident assistant and certified nursing assistant (CNA), worked as an interim human resources assistant, played a role in the health information department and as a special assistant to the administrative team.

In fall 2023, Wessberg was promoted to director of resident services on the Duluth campus. BLCD offers the region’s only comprehensive range of living arrangements and care services, including everything from independent and assisted living to memory care, skilled nursing and senior rehabilitation. BLCD cares for around 96 residents in the skilled nursing facility with additional space for 149 residents spread across its housing options. Focusing on the housing side with residents in independent living, assisted living and memory care, Wessberg works with the housing director to lead operations. In this role, he provides administrative support to nursing, culinary and environmental services, works with residents and their families on issues and concerns, and collaborates on future operational strategies.

Experiential learning lab

Wessburg credits his growing interest in pursuing a medical profession to the exposure he received from both of his parents. “Growing up and watching what my mother did, first as a physical therapist and then in healthcare leadership and administration, was important to me,” Wessberg shared. Following this inspiration, he initially planned to pursue pre-medical studies and follow the path to medical school, but he shifted to the business side of healthcare in his second year. “I appreciated the impact each of them made, which really inspired me to pursue a career in healthcare administration. Following a long career in acute care, my mother was at Benedictine for around seven years before retiring last summer. It is cool that, in some ways, she introduced me to Benedictine and passed part of the torch to me.”

Operating as a full-time employee and a full-time student presents challenges and Wessberg is grateful for the support he received from both sides. “Both my advisor and my human resources director have helped me find ways to balance my schedule,” Wessberg explained. “Since I have been full-time at BLCD, finding the right class times has been key. Once we nailed down the schedule, it was as simple as blocking an off-site meeting and walking to Tower Hall for class. It was fascinating to pull out my textbook, realize I had just dealt with a situation the author described and be able to apply the information immediately.”

Prioritizing the value of relationships

Wessberg recognized the importance of building and maintaining positive relationships daily. “As a CNA, I gained great experience with our residents, developing and fostering relationships, which is unique to a long-term care setting,” he said. “In a hospital or clinic, you may only see a patient for a few hours, a few days or maybe a week. Some of our residents have been with us for 10 years, so people I met on my first day at Benedictine four years ago are still people I interact with today and see daily. I take pride in not sitting in my office, so I’ll go around a couple of times a day and visit with as many residents as possible. I like to poke my head in during meal times in our dining rooms, and I view those times as a great way to connect and maybe discover opportunities to improve our services.”

The foundation Wessberg laid by investing in relationships at each stage of his career at BLCD is evident to staff and residents. Barb Healy, a resident of two years, said, “Luke is always serving with a smile, and I appreciate that. He looks like he’s happy to be here.” Peggy Radzak shared, “When my husband Chuck and I first came here, he was failing with dementia, and I couldn’t help him with everything. Luke was coming once a week to help with some direct care, and I didn’t think Chuck would be very happy about it, but when he met Luke, he sure was. They talked and talked, and I don’t think he thought about what they were doing beyond that.” Merry Wallin, who served as the foundation and marketing director at Benedictine Living Community until she retired at the end of April, added, “Working with Luke was fabulous. He’s very bright; he thinks on the spot. He’s also a visionary, and he brings a whole new set of eyes to our campus.”

Overcoming barriers

Even with the support of his colleagues and the residents at BLCD, Wessberg acknowledged he is in an unconventional position at his age. “It is challenging to be a 21-year-old director in a healthcare facility,” Wessberg said. “People give you a look. I definitely have to overcome those barriers, but I enjoy it. When I work with people for a little while, whether that’s our staff or residents or family members, they understand that I’m very much devoted. I have a solid background, and when I impact people and make positive changes, I think that’s when they really start to acknowledge that I am a good fit for this role.”

Beyond the connections forged within the halls of BLCD, Wessberg made it a priority to reach out to professionals in healthcare to talk about the industry and simply glean from their knowledge and experience. Over his four years, he has connected with many other leaders around the region and sees the benefit for new graduates working in any industry: “I think people are maybe a little nervous or timid to step out of their comfort zone and try to meet someone new, but you’d be surprised by how much leaders want to help the next generation of business people and healthcare leaders. So, I would say reach out. More often than not, people will help you,” Wessberg said.

After graduation, Wessberg plans to continue learning and growing in his role at BLCD to create and nurture the best possible environment for residents and staff alike. “Looking at how we can change staffing and healthcare, how we can change floor staff relationships with administrative teams and those we serve, I think is a big issue and something that I definitely want to dive deeper into the future,” he said. “I like to say that I entered healthcare to provide support not only for our clients, but also provide support for our staff who provide such vital care.”

Photo of Luke Wessberg with 3 women in front of a window overlooking the duluth campus.