Putting music on pause to be a nurse

Eight-year-old Elisabeth sat in the computer lab with the rest of her third grade class. Her eyes lit up as the computer screen showed the results of her career placement test: “I’m going to be a nurse!” She didn’t know she would have to give up three full-tuition scholarships in order to be one.

Boise native Elisabeth Harper has been developing a passion and talent for the oboe since the sixth grade. When Boise State and two colleges in Washington heard her play, they all offered her full-tuition scholarships. She had to make a decision between nursing and music.

“It was kind of a big choice to give up those scholarships but I knew that nursing is what I want to do for the rest of my life,” Harper says. “After I decided that I’ve been trying to keep up music as much I can. I don’t want to just let it go, it’s been such a big part of my life.”

The oboe is considered one of the hardest orchestral instruments to play, but Harper still managed to stay on top of both music and nursing through high school. She remembers how an important band class conflicted with a CNA class. She was worried that she was going to have to choose between them, but it worked out that she could take both. Decision time came when graduation rolled around.

“I really wanted to just do both for as long as I could,” Harper says. “I’m still trying to do the best I can at that.”

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Harper plays the oboe in concert. The oboe is notorious for its expensive reeds; each one can cost between $15-30. Photo credit: Jeanne Belfy

Harper’s friends and family were supportive in her decision, but they were also afraid she was letting something special go. “My oboe teacher back in Boise wanted me to study music so bad,” Harper says. “She tried to convince me every single lesson to study music instead of nursing. She was happy for me when I decided, but at the same time I think she kind of felt like I was stabbing her in the heart.”

Even though Harper was sure she wanted to be a nurse, there was no guarantee she would get into the BYU College of Nursing. “I was kind of nervous that I wouldn’t get into the program,” she says. “But I felt so strongly that this is what I was supposed to be doing so I wasn’t too worried. I knew that whatever happened would be okay, and I would end up a nurse somehow or other.” Even though she could have gone back and taken the scholarship offers, Harper felt once she made the decision to be a nurse there was no going back.

A desire to help people was one of the main driving forces behind her decision. “I feel like you can help people through music, but it’s not as direct as nursing; you don’t get to see the effects as easily,” she says. “That was something I was really excited about doing.”

Now in the third semester of the nursing program, Harper knows she’s already making a difference. “Something that I think is unique about the College of Nursing is that we are already doing it as we’re learning it,” she says. “We’re going into clinical settings and actually helping people. Even though we still have two years left of school we can make a difference now.”

The nursing program at BYU isn’t easy. On top of their rigorous course work, students have clinicals seven weeks out of the semester. During that time, they do a 12 hour shift at a hospital or medical facility once a week. Even though nursing means less sleep and more stress, Harper has stayed firm in her decision. “There’s no way I would go back and change my mind,” she says. “Even though it’s really hard, I still know nursing is what I want to do.”

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Harper poses with some of her classmates after participating in a blood pressure clinic. Photo credit: Elisabeth Harper

Harper wonders sometimes what might have happened if she had taken one of those scholarships, but moments with patients remind her why she chose nursing. She remembers her first day working at a long-term care facility when the CNA told her to put some TED hose on a patient. As hard as she tried to be gentle, the patient was hurting and kept asking her to stop. “It made my heart hurt,” she remembers. “I felt so bad.”

She ended up working with that patient her whole time there. On the last day of clinicals she put the TED hose on again like she had every week. This time the patient said, “You’re the best at that. You’re so gentle and you don’t make it hurt at all.” For Harper, getting to help someone hurt a little bit less made everything seem worth it.

Nursing will continue to be Harper’s main priority for the foreseeable future, but she still has dreams and goals for her oboe. “I would really love to play in a community orchestra wherever I end up,” she says. “I want to play in the orchestra at Temple Square as well. I think it’s something I could definitely do while still being a nurse as long as I keep it up.”

By Nate Brown—BYU College of Nursing public relations assistant

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