WALTERS, Minnesota — The side income for a farm family is no longer due to the Mayo Clinic's vaccine mandate.
Amanda Volsen and her husband, Eric, raise corn, soybeans, small grains and a herd of cattle on their sixth-generation family farm in Faribault County. The couple raises four children, all under the age of nine, on their farm.
"We're raising the seventh generation here now," said Volsen, who's been a registered nurse for the last 15 years.
She got her education in the state she grew up in, at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, and graduated in 2006. She got a job in the nursing field right away in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, at a hospital in the Mayo Clinic System.
Volsen said those years at the historic St Marys Campus, which now includes 10 intensive care units, a cardiac treatment center, Level 1 Trauma Center and more — were an overall good experience.
"Mayo does a good job of offering really high quality care, and I grew a lot in my career over those 15 years," said Volsen, who worked most of that time in a heart surgery and lung transplant unit. "I really felt that I was a well-established nurse of 15 years, at a world-known facility."
In early October, Mayo Clinic, which employs around 73,000 people, informed its estimated 9,000 unvaccinated employees of a vaccine requirement. Employees who fail to get vaccinated by Dec. 1, or who do not have a valid medical or religious exemption, would be placed on unpaid leave for one month. They then have until Jan. 1 to be in compliance with the requirement, and if they are not, Mayo will terminate them.
According to a Mayo Clinic spokeswoman at the time the requirement was introduced, the vaccine requirement is being imposed in order to make hospital facilities safer for patients, visitors and other staff members.
When Volsen interviewed for the position in Fairmont in late 2020, she was upfront with the interviewer that she was "not vaccinated, and I didn't intend to be." She said the interview told her that was OK, and it was a personal choice.
But Volsen said because of "what was happening other places in the country," she felt a vaccine mandate was coming in the near future.
"So I wasn't necessarily surprised when (the mandate) announced, but I knew that it was going to present me with having to make some decisions," said Volsen.
Her reasonings to remain unvaccinated vary.
"I think anything that comes down with a lot of force and limited options, and almost guilting or blame pointing, it just made me cautious," said Volsen. "In addition to the fact that overall, the risk is low, especially for my age group, of dying from COVID."
Another thing that made her uncomfortable about the vaccine was an attitude in healthcare she hadn't seen in her entire career as a nurse.
"There's been increasing attitude within healthcare, that (COVID-19 vaccination) is something that it's OK to judge patients for," she said.
Volsen said she was terminated on Oct. 22. She said she was terminated before the Jan. 1 deadline because she chose to decline a mandatory questionnaire asking if she would plan to be vaccinated, or remain unvaccinated. If she answered her plans to remain unvaccinated, Volsen said the rules for her job would've changed.
"They said (if you decline to be vaccinated) it's preferred that you eat and drink alone, and you won't be allowed to attend meetings in person, you'll only be allowed to attend virtually." she said. "And so that really bothered me."
Reading comments on internal Mayo sites, where Volsen said employees were allowed to give their opinion, she said it felt like "not as friendly of an environment for those who were choosing to be unvaccinated."
"And because I felt that the new rules that I would have to follow were discriminatory, I didn't participate in their policy," she said. "I didn't decline it, and I didn't reveal if I had been vaccinated or not, so because I do not meet the requirement, I was out of compliance."
She was put on a 30-day unpaid leave and told if she was still non-compliant at the end of it, she would be terminated.
"So had I not been terminated in October, I most likely would have been out with a group that'll go out in January," she said.
Her last day
Volsen said her last day as a nurse at the Mayo Clinic was difficult to get through and brought back a lot of memories from her time at the clinic.
"It was very emotional, and I sat in my van and cried before the shift and after the shift," said Volsen. "I chose to be a nurse for a reason, because I really enjoyed that career. I enjoyed caring for people. I enjoyed how much you really got to be on top of things and a critical thinker and to provide good care to patients — and I did that for a long time."
To have to step away from that career, on terms she acknowledged was a choice, was sad. Volsen said she's not sure what the future will look like as far as nursing goes.
"I don't know what it'll look like to return — if and when, and what all that will look like," she said. "So I really, I spent a lot of time just thinking back on all the patients I cared for over those years."
Volsen said if she wasn't busy harvesting on Oct. 25, she would've been with the over 100 people protesting the vaccine mandate outside of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester that day.
"If it would have worked out more easily, I would have been happy to join in in with the protest," she said.
Fortunately for Volsen, she said she's been growing her photography business, which will help shoulder the loss of income from her nursing job.
"I'm passionate about photography, and capturing our life here on the farm and telling the story through pictures," said Volsen. "And so I will most likely end up leaning into that photography side job a little bit more and building my client base there."
She's also looking forward to being more available to help on the farm and help with homeschooling their children.
"But the income that I had through working those years as a nurse will need to be replaced somewhere, and I'm guessing I'll probably lean into the photography," she said.