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Dynamic duo
Sisters Breanne and Britni Schraufnagel are both training in radiography in Tomah
breanne britni schraufnagel
Sisters Breanne, left, and Britni Schraufnagel of Hillsboro are both training in radiographyBreanne at the Tomah VA Medical Center and Britni at Tomah Memorial Hospital. - photo by Contributed/Scott Farley

The VA is known for the programs and services it offers to veterans, but many don’t know the VA also offers training to medical students who may be taking care of veterans someday.

The Tomah VA Medical Center works with local colleges to allow students to come to the VA and learn through hands-on training. This clinical training is required to graduate at the end of their college career.

“It provides us an opportunity for students to understand what our vision of caring for the vets is about,” said Tracey Lane-Belcher, the director of education and a registered nurse at the Tomah VA. “It really is a great recruitment and retention tool.”

One student in clinical training at the Tomah VA is Breanne Schraufnagel, who is enrolled in the radiography program at Minnesota State College – Southeast Technical, Winona, Minn. Breanne is in the program with her twin sister, Britni, who isn’t in clinicals at the Tomah VA, but hopes to be in the future.

“We have pretty much done everything together, and so it was natural we did this together,” said Breanne. Breanne and Britni didn’t always know what emphasis they wanted to get into, but there was no doubt they wanted to be in the medical field.

“I had surgery when I was a kid which required a lot of x-rays, and that really got me interested in radiography,” said Britni.

Once they were both accepted in the radiography program and clinicals started, they were faced with a choice of which hospital they would go to. They both wanted to come to the Tomah VA, but they reached an agreement when they found out they couldn’t do clinicals at the Tomah VA together.

“You have to do more than one clinical,” said Britni, who chose to do her clinicals at Tomah Memorial Hospital. “I want to do either my second or third clinical (at Tomah VA). They do different exams at the VA that they don’t do regularly at other hospitals.”

The VA also gives more flexibility and independence to their medical students. “I can do the exams, but I’m not alone,” said Britni. “There is always somebody there with me, looking over my shoulder.” “While I get to go and do exams alone, and then when I am done somebody will come and check on me,” said Breanne.

Breanne said she sees a difference in the type of patient she sees at the VA compared to the ones Britini sees at Tomah Memorial.

“My patients are a lot older than what Britni sees, and I think they’re awesome, and it’s a privilege to work with the veterans,” said Breanne.

“I get to see a wide variety of patients, age wise,” said Britni. “I also got to work on a videofluroscopic, which is where you get to watch somebody swallowing on an x-ray.”

“We don’t do that here,” said Breanne. Breanne expressed how much she has really enjoyed the staff at the Tomah VA.

“The staff is so wonderful and awesome, and they know so much which really helps me out a lot,” said Breanne. “I get to watch them all and learn how they do things and learn what’s best for me. But most importantly, they have helped me build my confidence.”

The sisters have been with each other since the day they were born. They attended the same schools, have the same friends, and now are in the same field of work. But for the first time in 21 years they have lived apart.

The VA provides an apartment to Breanne, while Britni stays with a family friend during the week. The sisters are each other’s support group, no matter the circumstance.

“Even though we don’t live together, I feel we always talk to each other,” said Britni. “We help each other study and remind each other if something is due.”

“I share my experiences with her, and she shares her experiences with me,” said Breanne.