Category Archives: Alumni Career Spotlights

CON Online Cheerleader: Alumna Marianna Pugmire

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It really takes a village! Only with the support of alumni can the college continue to thrive. Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

By Quincey Taylor

Chances are, any College of Nursing Facebook post has a comment from alumna Marianna Pugmire. One of the college’s most vocal supporters, Pugmire (AS ‘67), never misses a chance to vocalize her appreciation for the college as well as remind us of how nursing has changed in the last 55 years. The College of Nursing team wants to thank Pugmire for her continued efforts to remember her alma mater.

In 1964, Pugmire was admitted to the BYU nursing program. Thinking back on getting that wonderful news, Pugmire reminisces, “You never forget the joy and relief when that notice is received.” She started out in the Bachelor’s program, but when life shifted and she became engaged, she switched to the two-year program. She like that it was focused more on patient care rather than management. Ironically, even though the plan was to focus more on bedside nursing, she eventually spent most of her career in management.

Many things have changed since Pugmire’s time at BYU. That first year, she received a full-tuition scholarship which totaled to only $220.

Facebook has become Pugmire’s way to continue to engage with the college, feeling the Spirit of the Y. She says, “I love to see the posts of the new students and they bring back so many great memories.”

She continues, “I am always happy to see the Facebook posts from the nursing program and to see the wonderful things they are doing. I am disabled by a very bad back and knees and I don’t get out much, so Facebook has become my window to the world.”

The team at the College of Nursing is so grateful for cheerleaders like Pugmire and want to thank her for her continued support. Pugmire realizes the difficulty of what is asked of the students and adds, “The nursing program isn’t easy and I will continue to encourage the students.” Thank you, Marianna!

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Resiliency in the Face of Adversity: Susan Jero

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Jero speaking at Nightingale College of Nursing graduation ceremony. Photo courtesy of the Nightingale College of Nursing.

By Quincey Taylor

Something the faculty at the College of Nursing at Brigham Young University hopes to teach their students is resiliency. Nursing is not an easy occupation. There are days when patients are irritable, challenges are overwhelming, and topping it off, your feet hurt from standing all day. There is one alumni example, however, who demonstrates the power and determination that accompany resiliency. Susan Jero (AS ’75, BS ’79, MS ’98) has continuously shown a refusal to give up in the face of daunting adversity.

A Challenging Youth

Jero had a difficult childhood and faced obstacles that no child should. Her mother died when she was seven years old, changing her life forever. At age eight, she gained a new stepmother who struggled with alcoholism. To escape, she left home and became married at 15 years old. Even though she never finished high school, Jero highly valued education and was determined to continue school. At 17, she returned to finish high school. Unfortunately, she was expelled—at that time, a married mother was not welcome in public schools.

Jero always had a dream to become a registered nurse. At 18, she completed training and started work as a certified nurse’s aide. She says about her dream, “I wanted to make a difference in patient’s outcomes. I wanted to help them return to good health.”

One day at work, Jero was informed that her husband had been killed in the Vietnam War. She says, “I was devastated.” A widow and mother at age 19, Jero had to find a way to support her family.

Stepping Up to the Challenge at BYU

At 23, Jero learned that she could become a non-matriculated student at Brigham Young University with only a GED. After completing 24 credits, she could apply for full admission. At this time, she was remarried with young children. She remembers, “I was determined; I was resilient. I completed those credits successfully and—with a three-week-old infant—began nursing school.”

Completing her nursing degree was a major turning point in Jero’s life. Over six years, she completed an associate’s degree and then a bachelor’s degree at BYU. Twenty years later, she received her master’s degree in nursing administration.

She says, “My experiences at BYU were pivotal in receiving a blessed career. Because of the College of Nursing, I was successful at serving as a nurse manager for eight years in a busy, intensive care unit.”

With a master’s in nursing administration, Jero was successful in chief nursing positions at two different hospitals as well as later serving as the director of nursing education services at Nightingale College. She reflects, “The skills I learned prepared me to meet the expectations of very demanding positions. I’ve loved every position I’ve ever held, and my success has been due to a great education from BYU, where I received an associate’s, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees.”

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She continues, “I can never thank the professors and mentors at BYU enough, including Donna Fosbinder and Dr. Mary Williams, to name a few. Always supportive, always guiding, they made a huge difference in my life.  They taught me how to be a professional.”

Founding Nightingale College

In 2010, accompanied by four other individuals, Jero was part of starting Nightingale College, something she considers her proudest achievement. She served as the director of nursing education services for several years up until her retirement. In honor of Jero and her resilient spirit, the college created a scholarship in her name.

Jero is so grateful for the connections she made at BYU. Photo courtesy of Jero.

The concept of the Susan J. Jero Resiliency Scholarship was originated by Mikhail Shneyder, President & CEO of Nightingale College. While attending the Sundance Film Festival, he had the good fortune to see a film about an impoverished high school in the Mojave Desert where poor and underprivileged teens struggled with life. The high school adopted unique techniques to support and assist these teens to a better outcome.

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Jero will be sorely missed by her students and colleagues. Photo courtesy of Nightingale College of Nursing.

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In keeping with Nightingale College’s mission, he brought the concept to the college and approved a full-ride scholarship to a high school graduate who has faced challenges in their young life and demonstrated resiliency.

According to the Nightingale College Summer 2018 Graduation Recap, “This scholarship will cover the entire cost of tuition for a learner who exemplifies what Susan Jero always has—the ability to overcome, rise, and be strong. The presentation of the scholarship, as well as Jero’s subsequent induction into the newly created Nightingale Hall of Fame, impacted her greatly. We love you, Ms. Jero!”

Enjoying Retirement

Jero retired in March 2019 after 44 years of a successful nursing career. She says, “My life has been very blessed.” Jero has exciting plans for retirement and says, “I plan on spending time at home in Mexico, enjoying my three daughters and grandchildren, and reading books that I have been collecting for years but haven’t had time to read.”

Resiliency is core to Jero’s success. She remarks, “I could have never accomplished what I completed without resiliency. I am so proud and so honored to have this scholarship bear my name.”

Melissa Heinonen: Applying the Healer’s Art

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By Corbin Smith

“I would learn the Healer’s art.”

One of the main goals of the BYU College of Nursing is to teach its students the Healer’s art. That includes caring for each of God’s children not only physically, but also mentally and spiritually. The college hopes that each graduate will dedicate their life to that service as they move on to healthcare sites all over the world. Now, more than 10 years later, class of 2007 graduate Melissa Heinonen looks back and is confident that she has been able to do exactly that, serving like the Healer did.

Physically

Since her graduation, Heinonen has healed her patients of all ages across the globe. Upon graduating from BYU, she worked in Primary Children’s Hospital and Shriners Hospital for Children in Salt Lake City. There she realized that she was passionate about working with young children and their families.

From there she moved to Austin, Texas where she worked at the Children’s Blood and Cancer Center of Central Texas for two years. “I loved working in Texas,” she says, “It was so inspiring to take part in helping a young child receive strength again.” It was here that she saw both the devastating effects of disease and healing power a nurse can bring.

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Heinonen with a mother and daughter during her medical mission trip to Nigeria in 2012.

These experiences inspired Heinonen to go abroad and use her medical talents overseas. Her first experience was in 2010 following the earthquake in Haiti. A few years later, she traveled to Nigeria where she provided primary care services to a rural community. Once again, her eyes were opened to the positive influence nurses can have on a community.

In 2014, after receiving a Master of Nursing degree from the University of Washington, she and her young family moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota, where they currently reside, where she works part-time as a family practitioner in a private practice called Grow Pediatrics. Even though now she spends less time at the hospital she cherishes the time she can spend with her two boys. “I love the flexibility my job brings. I can spend a few days a week doing what I love without having to give up time with those whom I love,” she says.

Mentally

Heinonen also knows that a nurse’s job description goes beyond just physical healing but also mental healing. While working in Texas in the cancer clinic Heinonen saw the suffering felt by the children and their parents. While nursing the patient as best she could, she also provided support for devastated mothers and fathers who were distraught from the situation of their child. In fact, she still maintains relationships with many of those families today.

She also did this on the medical missions that she completed. In Haiti, she saw how the earthquake shook people’s lives. Thousands were injured physically, but thousands more were hurt mentally and emotionally. Her presence as a nurse comforted people as they dealt with the tragedy that changed their lives completely.

Spiritually

Heinonen also attributes her career to her strong testimony in the gospel. “Nursing has strengthened my testimony that each person is a unique and a loved child of God,” she explains, “I know that our Savior loves each of us individually and my work certainly teaches me more about that every day.”

That testimony that she has been able to form has helped her professionally with her patients and, possibly more importantly, with her four year-old and two year-old sons. As she teaches them about God, she often draws upon her experiences as a nurse. She says, “I try to teach my children that each person deserves to be treated with dignity and love as the Savior would. I help them understand the pure love He feels for us and His special ability to heal us.”

Her career in nursing has also helped her be a missionary. Her experience has helped her develop skills in communication and teaching as well as increasing her capacity to serve and be compassionate. She explains, “Now it is easier for me to connect with patients and get to know them and their unique circumstances. That gives me the courage to share the gospel and be an example of the Healer.”

Now, looking back at the life she has lived, Heinonen sees how each experience has been for her benefit. Even with all of her travels and homes across the nation, she knows that wherever she is, she can take the Healer’s art with her. “I love that I was able to learn nursing as the Healer’s art at BYU. It helps me see the Lord’s hand in my life and motivates me to strive to be the best nurse and mother I can be each day.”

Pageants, Prison and Pediatrics; A Spotlight on Nursing Alumna Catherine Whittaker

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Whittaker serving in a retirement home after winning Ms. Utah Senior. Photos courtesy of Whittaker.

By Corbin Smith

Jesus Christ once taught, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.” Christ went on to illustrate this concept by sharing a story we all know and love: The Good Samaritan. While on a trip to Jerico, a Jewish man was robbed, beaten and abandoned by a group of thieves. While a priest and a Levite passed by this dying man without offering any help, a Samaritan, someone who had likely struggled due to social discriminations, stopped and helped nurse the injured man back to help. That example of service and compassion is exactly how BYU nursing alumna Catherine Whittaker (AS ’74) has lived her life since she was a young woman.

Catherine Whittaker was born and raised in Provo, Utah. Ever since her first breath, Whittaker has recognized the positive impact nurses have had on her life. When Whittaker was born sick and pre-mature, it was her mother, who was a professionally trained nurse, along with many other nurses that saved her when the doctors said it was unlikely she would survive. Later on in life, when her father left when she was 17 years old, she was charged with caring for her six younger siblings alongside her mother. These experiences as a teenager inspired Whittaker to come to BYU and study to be a nurse in 1972.

Since her days at the Y, she has been a registered nurse for 45 years in various medical specialties and settings, from labor and delivery to maternal fetal medicine. Incredibly, she has personally helped bring over 3,000 babies into the world. With all of her experience in the field of nursing, she says that she has learned two major lessons that have guided her life.

First, that service is based off of love. While working in labor and delivery, Whittaker had a personal experience with a close friend. As her friend got closer to the due date of her third child, various complications arose due to the Rh factor in her blood. Hours later, a beautiful 8 ½ pound stillborn baby was born. Whittaker was able to be with her friend in those heart-wrenching moments to comfort and lift her dear friend. Even though it is hard, Whittaker recognizes the impact of a caring nurse in the face of tragedy. “I love being able to have intimate experiences with each patient and their families, it really helps you love each person you serve” says Whittaker.

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Whittaker (far right), along with three fellow Ms. Senior America contestants. 

Second, when asked how nursing has set her up for lifelong service she says, “It gave me confidence in myself and allowed me to come out of my shell.” Whittaker is a woman of many talents and titles. In 2018, Whittaker was named Ms. Utah Senior America and was the 3rd runner-up at the Senior Nationals pageant. Together with that honor, she was presented the 2019 Mother of Achievement award, recognizing the impact she has made outside of her family.

Whittaker also spends a lot of time in prison! She is part of “Real Transitions” that helps women transition from prison to society, as well as she serves with her husband in a branch presidency in the Utah State prison. “Whether you are preparing a prescription for a patient or serving people in your community” says Whittaker, “you must be confident in yourself at all times.”

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Whittaker visits with a US Navy veteran.

Florence Nightingale once said, “I am of certain convinced that the greatest heroes are those who do their duty in the daily grind of domestic affairs whilst the world whirls as a maddening dreidel.” In a great piece of advice given from Whittaker to current nursing students she says, “Be creative. Do what you love. Serve how you love.” It doesn’t matter if she is on stage, in the hospital or with her husband John and dog Bojo at home, she truly is a hero to all.

Graduating from the Classroom to the Delivery Room

By Calvin Petersen

Perhaps more than anything, graduation is a time for questions. Those graduating ask questions like: Will I get more sleep now? What am I going to do with my life? Will I live where I want to? Will I find a job? Will I be any good at it?

Those who aren’t graduating yet ask: Will I get more sleep now? What am I going to do with my life? How can I be ready for graduation when it’s my turn? Will I be prepared for the real world?

Larissa Black, who graduated from the BYU College of Nursing last December, is evidence that some of these questions really do have answers.

The New Nurse on the Unit

Larissa is from Tomball, Texas, and has a pair of fake cowboy boots and a love of barbecue to prove it. After graduating and conquering the NCLEX, Larissa began her job as a labor and delivery nurse at the University of Utah Hospital.

“My patients come in pregnant and they leave with a baby. That’s the best way to describe it,” says Larissa.

However, the transition from college student to full-time nurse hasn’t been as seamless as Larissa had hoped.

“Starting my career has been difficult because I feel like I’m trying to figure out a million things at once,” she says. Those million things include learning a charting system she’s never used before, remembering policies specific to her hospital and a long list of things to check for every patient. Larissa found that one of the best ways to take on her tasks is simply observing how others do it.

Larissa works closely with three nurses who take turns training her. “Everything always gets done,” she says, “but they go about it a little bit differently.” Seeing the nurses’ different methods for doing things gives Larissa the opportunity to decide for herself which practices are most effective and which ones aren’t. By taking the best practices together, Larissa will already have an efficient routine when she finishes her training.

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A Labor of Love (or a Love of Labor)

Since she sees people “at their worst” every day, Larissa has frequent opportunities to practice the Healer’s art and demonstrate compassion.

“The most important thing is to be kind and non-judgmental,” she says. “Besides the physical tasks of nursing, like hanging medications and taking vital signs, there is a side of nursing that’s about helping someone to heal emotionally and spiritually. It’s easy to forget that aspect, but remembering it is so important in helping people.”

It was out of a desire to help people that Larissa initially decided to become a nurse. She’s also fascinated with the human body and even watched ‘Untold Stories of the ER’ when she was younger.

“I was really lucky to be one of the few who knew what they wanted to do from the beginning,” she says. “I never had to change my major.”

Her passion for women’s health made labor and delivery a natural fit for Larissa. Of her experience in the L&D unit so far, she says, “I just love it, it’s amazing! And it never gets old. Every time I’m with a patient and am able to be there when she has her baby, it is 100 percent the coolest thing ever, every single time.”

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Reflections on Nursing School

Something Larissa wishes she would have done while still in school is work in a hospital part-time.

“I’ve noticed that my cohorts who worked as CNAs or phlebotomists or medical assistants in some aspect are much more comfortable with the way that hospitals and clinics run because they’ve been there. They’re already used to it, so when they graduate they’re just stepping up into a different role.”

Nevertheless, one of the most valuable experiences Larissa had at BYU was working as a TA in the simulation lab. Each semester she set up and administered simulation labs, as well as voiced the manikins during simulations.

“That helped me in so many ways,” Larissa explains, “I saw simulations several times, so now if I ever have a patient who shows certain signs and symptoms, I’ll remember what to do.” Her job also led to lasting friendships with faculty and peers.

When asked what she does for fun outside of work, Larissa laughed and said, “Sleeping.” Apparently, even after the stress of homework and finals are long gone, sleep is still a rare commodity.

Larissa doesn’t have all the answers and still isn’t sure what her future holds. However, she’s never forgotten what her capstone preceptor often said, “Larissa! Slow down. You don’t have to walk that fast.” This response to Larissa’s constant power-walking to and from patient rooms has become a mantra for her life. “Just slow down,” Larissa says, “It’s okay. Take a deep breath, everything is fine. Eat a snack if you need a snack. Take care of yourself and then go take care of others.”

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Volunteers at BYU Craft 301 Yarn Wigs for Children Battling Cancer

By Calvin Petersen

More than 500 people sacrificed sleep and St. Patrick’s Day plans to make yarn wigs for child cancer patients at the Magic Yarn Project’s largest-ever wig workshop. Co-hosted by the Magic Yarn Project and BYU College of Nursing, the event on March 17 was the second workshop of its kind.

“No one leaves these workshops without a smile on their face or without feeling like their simple act of love will make the world a better place. I love being able to witness that in their countenances,” said Holly Christensen, BYU alumna and co-founder of the Magic Yarn Project.

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The Magic Yarn Project began in 2015 when Christensen crafted a yarn Rapunzel wig for her friend’s daughter, who had lost much of her hair in chemotherapy. Now three years later, the Magic Yarn Project has made the world a better place for over 7,000 children battling cancer in 36 countries. Each of these children has received a hand-made princess or pirate yarn wig at no cost. Wigs take approximately two hours to make and are crafted by volunteers at wig workshops.

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Wig workshop volunteers pose with 301 completed wigs after the service event on March 17, 2018.

“It was a huge success!” Christensen said of this year’s BYU wig workshop. While most of the wigs will be distributed by BYU nursing students during their clinicals at Primary Children’s Hospital, Ryver had the chance to choose her wig in person. She wore an Anna wig and a wide smile as her mother pushed her around the Wilkinson Ballroom in a stroller. Not even three years old, Ryver was diagnosed with leukemia only a few months ago.

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“It was heart-warming to see Princess Ryver light up when she got her wig, and equally rewarding to see her mother get excited about picking out a wig with her. Ryver’s presence definitely made the workshop memorable and was a sweet reminder that this is what the project is all about,” said Christensen. For her, the experience of personally gifting a wig was rare; most wigs are mailed to individuals and cancer centers around the world.

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The wig workshop at BYU brought the community together. Among the hundreds of volunteers knotting, braiding and decorating yarn hairpieces was 17-year-old Connor Munden. His grandmother’s involvement in the Magic Yarn Project Utah Chapter inspired an Eagle Scout Service Project to prepare for BYU’s workshop. Along with family and friends, Connor cut most of the yarn—thousands of feet of it—that eventually became 301 completed wigs.

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In addition, students from BYU and members of the Magic Yarn Project Utah Chapter volunteered to teach those coming to the workshop how to make various wigs. “This event helped me realize there are lots of different ways to serve those with cancer,” said Maggie Gunn, a BYU nursing student and wig instructor at the workshop, “We may not be able to cure their cancer, but we can provide comfort and love which, in my opinion, is just as important as the chemo.”

“With the Magic Yarn Project, there’s something for everyone,” concluded BYU nursing student Jessica Small, “Whether bedazzling flowers or tying yarn to a wig, people of all ages can come together and make a difference in the lives of so many children.”

Next year’s BYU wig workshop will take place on March 16, 2019. To learn more about the Magic Yarn Project, visit www.themagicyarnproject.com.

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“Everyone knows someone who has struggled with cancer: a family member, friend, patient or ward member. While we can’t cure someone’s cancer, we can help, comfort and love them. Making these wigs is a way to show child cancer patients that they’re loved,” said Jane Goodfellow, a fourth-semester BYU nursing student. Goodfellow (right) is pictured with fellow nursing student Leah Guerrero (left). The two volunteered as instructors at the wig workshop.

 

 

The Magic Yarn Project Returns to BYU to Make Wigs for Child Cancer Patients

By Calvin Petersen

In the largest-ever service event of its kind, BYU College of Nursing will partner with the Magic Yarn Project on March 17 to craft nearly 300 princess and pirate themed wigs for child cancer patients.

This is the second time BYU will host a wig workshop. Last year, the Wilkinson Student Center was filled with over 400 people knotting, braiding and decorating yarn hairpieces. “This is an awesome volunteer experience because you feel like what you’re doing is really helping someone,” said BYU nursing student Jessica Wright after the event. “It’s nice to wake up on a Saturday morning and do something for someone else,” agreed BYU student Sam Smith.

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Magic Yarn Project co-founder Holly Christensen works with volunteers to prepare a Moana wig.

The Magic Yarn Project began in 2015 when BYU nursing alumna Holly Christensen (BS ’06), a resident of Palmer, Alaska, discovered that her friend’s daughter had cancer. “As an oncology nurse, one of the things I learned is that I can’t do everything, but I can do something,” Christensen says. For her, that meant crafting a Rapunzel wig out of soft yarn for the girl to wear.

The magic happened when the girl put on the wig. She twirled around in her pink Rapunzel dress, smiling and forgetting the painful world of cancer she had been in. Making more wigs wasn’t a hard decision for Christensen after that. She recruited a group of friends and asked for yarn donations on social media. Their story was picked by an online magazine and quickly got attention from news media across the United States.

So far, over 6,000 wigs have been delivered, at no cost, to child cancer patients across the world, according to Christensen. These wigs have been the efforts of thousands of volunteers at wig workshops similar to the one at BYU. In addition, women at a correctional facility in Alaska crochet beanie caps that serve as the base for each wig. Christensen herself dedicates more than 40 hours a week to the project on top of two weekly shifts as a nurse and raising her family.

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During last year’s five-hour Magic Yarn Project wig workshop at BYU, over 400 people made 185 wigs.

“There have been times a little voice inside myself has said, ‘These are just wigs, this isn’t that important,’” Christensen says. “Then we get emails, and parents tell us how much it meant to them to see their daughter smile again after nothing but illness and needles and pain and hospitals. So, for these children and their families, they feel like this gives them a little bit of a normal life again, a glimpse of what it might be like when they get better.”

Christensen will travel to Provo to host the March 17 wig workshop, which will take place in BYU’s Wilkinson Student Center. Volunteers will make a variety of princess and pirate inspired wigs, which will be donated to Primary Children’s hospital and children throughout the world.

Anyone interested in participating can register for a two-hour time slot at www.eventbrite.com/e/the-magic-yarn-projects-byu-workshop-tickets-42923209475. No crocheting or advanced crafting skills are necessary.  To make a monetary donation to the Magic Yarn Project or to learn more about the nonprofit, visit www.themagicyarnproject.com.