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From CNA to doctorate: How Asante is helping employees grow

Asante’s tuition reimbursement benefit got bigger on Aug. 1, which brings even greater opportunities for those who want to go back to school.


Sixteen years ago, Holly Nickerson was a CNA working in a float pool at ARRMC. Today, she holds a doctor of nursing practice degree, the title of vice president of Quality and Patient Safety and what may be a record for career advancement at Asante.

Her progression from CNA to C-suite involved the perfect blend of ambition, opportunity and support through Asante’s tuition reimbursement program.

While raising a family with her husband, Joel, general manager of Butler Ford in Ashland, she earned a bachelor’s in nursing from OHSU. She went back to school 10 years later to earn a master’s degree from Oregon Health & Science University, becoming one of only two nurses enrolled in the challenging program that catered mostly to physicians.

“It opened my eyes to an interdisciplinary approach to health care,” she says, “that focus on seeing perspectives from other disciplines outside of nursing.”

Holly Nickerson’s graduations, from her bachelor’s in nursing (top left), to her master’s and finally her doctorate.

This is one reason Asante offers tuition reimbursement. Not only does continuing education help employees advance in their careers, they bring the skills and knowledge they’ve learned back to the organization.

Encouraged by the opportunities for advancement within Asante (some of which require advanced degrees), Nickerson went on to earn her doctorate degree from Baylor University in 2021. She and her family attended graduation on the Waco, Texas, campus. When the celebration was over, the former CNA became Dr. Holly Nickerson.

As of this week, employees considering going back to school have even more incentive. Asante’s tuition reimbursement for full-time employees has risen to $5,250 for any courses — a substantial increase from the $3,000 previously offered. Eligible courses include undergraduate coursework, graduate coursework and certificate programs. The amount for eligible part-time employees each calendar year will be $2,625 for any eligible courses, up from $1,500.

Asante also partners with different universities that have agreed to provide a tuition discount for Asante employees. In total, Asante is investing nearly $1 million in education for employees.

Below are just a few of the hundreds of employees who have benefitted from this program. “These examples show that by investing in our employees, we can leverage the intelligence and drive they have to make Asante stronger as an organization and continue to provide amazing patient care to our communities,” says Robert Begg, vice president of HR. “With labor shortages across the country — and in almost every type of job we have at Asante — helping our Asante colleagues grow and providing career paths and succession opportunities are more critical than ever. I’m very proud of the way we support our team in this way.”

Desiree FeyerharmDesiree Feyerharm, RN

Manager, Patient Care Services, ARRMC General Medicine

Feyerharm joined Asante 10 years ago as a nurse in ARRMC’s ICU. Five years later, she used Asante’s education benefit to earn a CCRN (critical care registered nurse) certification, which helped her transition into critical care outreach. She earned a bachelor’s in nursing from Western Governors University followed by an MBA just two years later.

She rose to supervisor of patient care services for medical oncology, then to manager of patient care services for General Medicine in early 2021.

“Both my BSN and MBA are paid for, majorly, by Asante’s tuition reimbursement program,” she says. “Throughout my career at Asante, I’ve been granted opportunities to learn and grow, as well as to develop others.”

Bonnie FreelBonnie Freel

Manager, ATRMC Resource Management

Freel began her career at Asante in 2004 as a bath aide for Home Health and Hospice. She later earned a nursing degree through Rogue Community College, becoming the first in her family to graduate from college and the first to work in health care. After working as a bedside nurse at ATRMC and then as a home health nurse, she accepted a position in Resource Management as a discharge planner.

With help from Asante’s tuition reimbursement program, she earned a master’s in nursing degree in 2014 from Walden University with a specialization in leadership and management.

“Asante helped me to realize my goal of becoming a registered nurse and advance to a management position through the tuition reimbursement program.”

Laura LillmanLaura Lillman

Practice manager, APP–Family Medicine, Ashland and Talent

ARRMC staff may remember her as the hospital’s Volunteer Services coordinator, when her name was Laura Nicholson. Continuing education funded in part by Asante has taken her career in a new direction. She became a patient access supervisor at ARRMC at the start of the pandemic, and helped coordinate the screeners.

About a year ago she joined APP as the practice manager for the Ashland and Talent primary care clinics.

Since beginning her career at Asante 15 years ago, Lillman has earned certifications in patient experience and volunteer administration as well as both a bachelor’s and a master degree in business administration from Eastern Oregon University.

“All these certifications and degrees were made possible due to tuition reimbursement,” she says. “I was a single mom without additional revenue for my education. Without Asante’s help I would not have been able to grow in the ways I have.”

Beth MortonsonBeth Mortonson

Clinical manager, ARRMC Sleep Center

Continuing education can be just as important for developing new skills as it is for advancing on the career ladder. Mortonson has been in Asante leadership for 15 years, but she wanted to learn new ways to manage a department and lead people. She enrolled in Southern Oregon University’s Innovation and Leadership Program for working professionals, which allowed her to learn from other leaders throughout the community.

“Overall it was an amazing experience, which built my confidence as a leader when difficult times came. Unfortunately, I was unable to complete my research project due to a serious illness, but I will carry the skills I gleaned from the INL program for life. Thanks to the tuition reimbursement program, there was no financial burden. I only wish I had done it five years earlier!”

Jen PerryJen Perry

Director, ATRMC Imaging Services

At Asante Three Rivers, Perry (pictured, far left) has earned a reputation as an innovative leader with an unflagging ability to achieve results. This has been helped by her ongoing education, funded in part through Asante’s tuition reimbursement program.

Perry joined ATRMC in 1994 as an extern student from Oregon Institute of Technology, then later became an imaging tech (X-ray, CT, MRI and mammography). Over the years she became a coordinator, supervisor and manager before being named director of Imaging, Radiation Oncology, Cardiopulmonary and Sleep Lab in 2016.

After earning a bachelor’s in radiologic science from OIT and an MBA at Southern Oregon University, Perry now has a list of credentials that are longer than her name.

“Going back to school when you have a full-time job and a family is already stressful enough,” she says. “With the tuition reimbursement program the additional stress of coming up with the money to go back to school was not an issue because of Asante.”

Andrea ReederAndrea Reeder

Vice president and executive director, Asante Foundation

Reeder moved from consecutive roles as director of development and campaigns — leading the Foundation’s AsanteForward fundraising campaign — to a senior executive position within Asante.

Before joining the organization in 2013, she worked in private education as director of advancement for a school in Florida and St. Mary’s in Medford.

“At a pivotal point in my career, Asante’s tuition reimbursement program allowed me to finish my degree,” she says. “I have been given great opportunities over the years and reached a point that exceptions would no longer be provided to advance my career.”

In 2019, she earned a bachelor’s in business management from Western Governors University. When the Foundation’s former executive, Floyd Harmon, retired in March, Reeder was prepared to fill the position.

“Partnering with Asante to cover the [tuition] costs relieved a burden and instilled even more loyalty to Asante and pride in working here. I will forever be grateful.”

Asante HR specialist Nathan Doshier contributed to this article. 

How tuition reimbursement works

Who’s eligible
You must be employed by Asante one full year (with some exceptions) and in a regular full- or part-time position when you requested reimbursement. Employees are ineligible if they have received written or final written corrective action within the past 12 months.

How to apply
All requests must be pre-approved. Fill out a Tuition/Certification Reimbursement Request form, available on myAsanteNET. Submit the completed form to the Tuition Reimbursement Office at least 10 days before the beginning of a class, course or certification preparation course. You will need to submit this form for each term or reimbursement period.

Allotments (per calendar year)
Full-time employees can receive up to $5,250; part-time employees are eligible for $2,625. Unused funds do not carry over from one calendar year to the next. Allotments renew back up to maximum amount each Jan. 1.

Reimbursable expenses
These include tuition, fees and loans that require repayment (loans that paid current tuition and fees). Any free money to you, such as grants, scholarships or discounts, must be subtracted from requested amount. Reimbursement is subject to availability of program budgeted funds.

Non-reimbursable expenses
These include books; study guides; materials; e-materials; exam costs; travel; finance or late fees; shipping and handling; licensure; memberships; uniforms; drug screening; background checks; and seminars, conferences, workshops unless it’s a prep course leading to certification.

Certification approvals are for preparatory courses leading to certification not required for your job (per your job description). Certification exam results are required as proof of successful completion. Study materials and costs associated with sitting for the exam are not covered. Courses offering only CEUs, contact hours or a certificate of attendance are not accepted. Certifications are paid at undergraduate level.

Submitting for reimbursement
It is a reimbursement program, so you pay up front and are then reimbursed by Asante once you show successful completion (grades or certification exam results, and receipt showing charges and payment).

Please remember that you must submit your request at least 10 days before the start of class for preapproval. For reimbursement, you must submit documentation (receipts and grades) within 30 days of the completion of the classes.

Reimbursements are paid out on the employee’s paycheck as a nontaxable item.

Contact HR

If you have any questions, please email the Tuition Reimbursement Office. If you have a form for student loan forgiveness that needs employer verification, you can email the form to [email protected].


You can access the forms online (you must be logged into the Asante network to access). You can find more information on myHR by clicking “HR” on the main page.

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