Category Archives: Alumni

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

IMG-2754

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.

IMG-1142

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.”

IMG-0942

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.

Advertisements

The Healer’s Art in Action: Year Three of The Magic Yarn Project

By Jessica Tanner

The Magic Yarn Project is an organization that has delivered thousands of yarn wigs and crocheted caps to little cancer fighters around the world. There is no shortage to the need for smiles and comfort amid times of hospitals, needles, and pain. But Holly Christensen, the organization’s co-founder, is determined to do what she can to help.

The project, which now includes hundreds of volunteers, began with a simple act of kindness. Christensen was praying for purpose in her life when she got sad news from her friend and fellow graduate Rachel Mecham (both graduated from BYU College of Nursing in ’06). Mecham’s daughter Lily had been diagnosed with lymphoma. For the next six months, their family spent 80 nights in the hospital. Mecham kept a blog on Lily’s progress to update family and friends (including Christensen). An oncologist, Christensen sees the pains of cancer daily. As Lily underwent chemotherapy and lost her hair, Christensen decided to step in and help.

“She wanted to do something and knew she couldn’t take away her cancer or physically be there in the hospital,” relates Mecham. Christensen had recently learned how to crochet and made Lily a beautiful, bright yellow Rapunzel wig. “It really brought a lot of cheer to her and to our family,” says Mecham.

Soon, the project that started with one wig turned into dozens. Mecham knew of more people who could use a wig for their children fighting cancer, and Christensen began asking for volunteers. Three years later, Christensen and her team of Magic Makers host the project in several states with hundreds of volunteers, or Fairy Godmothers, lending helping hands.

magicyarn3

Hundreds of volunteers came to tie yarn to the crocheted caps.

Last week on Saturday, March 16, volunteers gathered at BYU to make these magical princess wigs and superhero caps. Among them were students, faculty, families, and local volunteers. “There are so many people willing to help and get involved and I feel that God works through us,” says Christensen. It has been a joy for us at the BYU College of Nursing to coordinate with The Magic Yarn Project in this endeavor, this year being year three for BYU.

Many nursing students have been involved these past few years. Sixth-semester nursing student Leah Guerrero says, “I love volunteering for The Magic Yarn Project!…I have had several family members diagnosed with cancer and I know how costly wigs can be and how important their wigs meant to them. So I have a lot of respect for this organization because it is all volunteer based and it does not cost a single penny for those who receive a beautiful yarn wig. I cannot imagine what these children go through as they fight cancer, but I hope their wigs are able to lift their spirits and bring a smile to their faces.”

magicyarn7

Magic Makers teach volunteers to style and decorate the wigs before they are sent off.

Wigs made will go to Primary Children’s Hospital and the Ronald McDonald House, which offers a home-away-from-home for families with children fighting cancer. A representative from the Ronald McDonald House in Salt Lake City came to share his gratitude and the impact the wigs have on the children. These wigs truly warm the hearts of these little cancer fighters and their families.

On Saturday, our goal was 500 wigs. Together we made 537! Thank you to all Magic Makers and Fairy Godmothers who helped with this great event.

For more information on how to get involved, visit themagicyarnproject.com

 

Did you miss Night of Nursing? Here’s a recap!

By Jessica Tanner

Hundreds of nursing alumni. Forty locations. One epic event. Last Thursday, March 7, 2019, was our sixth annual Night of Nursing. Alumni assembled across the country in one great night of fun, laughter, prizes, and inspiring messages.

In case you missed it, here is our recap from the Provo location!

The games. Who can forget Dean Ravert playing “pin the bandage on the wound” or Assistant Professor Dr. Bret Lyman scoring at Operation? Students and alumni also tossed beanbags into a giant Operation board for prizes. Is there a better way to spend a rainy Thursday?

IMG_7339

Students and alumni gather to toss beanbags into the giant Operation board.

The mascot. This acrobatic cougar does not just go to athletic events and games. Cosmo put smiles on everyone’s faces at Night of Nursing. He did flips, played operation, and took photos with attendees.

The broadcast. Dean Ravert reported the highlights of 2018, including our students’ exceptional test scores. Our students had a first-time 100% NCLEX-RN licensure and the American Nurses Credentialing Center certifying exam in 2018. The dean also shared updates, such as the announcement of new faculty and a hint at an upcoming rise in rank from the U.S. News & World Report. (Follow this link to see what it is!) Intermountain Healthcare also presented a gift of $50,000 for student scholarships.

During the broadcast, we connected with alumni from classes 1956 to 2018. Nola Jean Davis Whipple graduated in the first BYU College of Nursing class of 1956. Since then she has worked in surgery and heart surgery units.  She established the first nursing office of the U.S. embassy in Guatemala and served in the U.S. embassy medical unit in Kenya. Last week she said hello from St. George, where she now lives.

“We started out giving shots to oranges and then we had to practice on each other,” Whipple remembers. “The school has improved humongously, wonderfully…I am proud to see what it’s become.” Marilyn Wallen, an alum from the class of 1966, also said hello from St. George. “And I still work!” Wallen reported enthusiastically. This earned a cheer from our live audience.

IMG_7395

Eva Stonemen, a former faculty member, addresses the audience with Public Relations Supervisor Jeff Peery.

Professor emeritus Eva Stoneman, who graduated from BYU College of Nursing in 1959, attended the Provo location. She worked for 50 years and has attended every single Night of Nursing event. “Nursing’s a wonderful field,” she added. We are with you on that, Eva! We applaud these women for their contributions and example.

The raffle. It was likely the most intense event of the evening. Each student, alumni, or faculty sat with a ticket or two clutched in their hands, wondering if their number would be called. Throughout the event, they cheered each other on as they won prizes. Several attendees left with goodies, including the ever-coveted BYU College of Nursing socks and Dr. Renea Beckstrand’s homemade fudge.

IMG_7502

A nursing student receives a license plate cover as a prize!

The service. Students, faculty, and alumni brought pairs of socks to donate. We collaborated with Sigma Theta Tau International to provide socks for local refugees.

The alumni. Outside of Provo, alumni gathered to connect in 39 locations. Night of Nursing is wonderful because each area is unique – some had a few alumni and others had dozens, some played games and others served dinner. The important thing is simply getting to know each other. One alum says, “Thanks for creating an opportunity for alumni to connect in communities throughout the U.S.!” Another reported, “The host did a great job of decorating and making us feel welcome.”

One host writes, “We each saw others around the country that we know or went to school with. Thank you for this event to keep us connected!” This is why we love Night of Nursing. The food and prizes are nice, but the friendships we make and keep are much sweeter.

Night of Nursing will return on March 5, 2020!

 

 

Career Night: Where Students and Professionals Connect (and what to expect)

WHAT

On January 30, BYU College of Nursing’s first ever Career Night will provide an opportunity for you to sit down and talk with health care professionals. Nursing students semesters one through four are especially encouraged to attend. Please join us for this rare opportunity!

WHY

Deven Jennings, a Charge Nurse, says, “It should be the goal of every nurse to find purpose and meaning in their chosen specialty. When you find your passion, you will find the fulfillment that the nursing profession has to offer.”

While the nursing program provides extensive curriculum, it is not able to cover every career possible. And there are several options out there. For example, did you know you could become a forensic nurse? Have you ever considered being a school nurse? Career Night offers you a chance to learn about a variety of careers, ask professionals about their day-to-day lives, and know what you need to do to reach your potential.

WHO

Over 20 local professionals, including alumni, will come to talk about their careers. If you want to learn about being an ambulatory OB/GYN nurse, you can. If you are interested in law, a nurse attorney will be there. Maybe being an emergency department nurse fascinates you. You can learn how to become one. Other careers include critical care nurse, geriatric nurse, home health pediatric nurse, oncology nurse, and nurse educator. Professionals from all these areas and more want to share their knowledge with you.

“There is value in looking for an experience after graduation that will help you solidly develop your skills,” says Tiffany Noss, a Nurse Practitioner. “If you put in the time and effort to build a solid foundation when you graduate, you can go anywhere.”

Feeling overwhelmed by the options? Curtis Newman, Director of Medical Services, gives this advice: “Be flexible. Gain experience in different areas. Never be afraid to ask questions. Always be learning new skills and look for new knowledge.” Meeting with these qualified nurses can kick-start your journey to your future career.

WHEN AND WHERE

We invite you to join us for Career Night on January 30, at The Student Wilkinson Center room 3228 from 6:30 – 8:00 pm. You will be given the opportunity to have five, 12-minute rotations with health care professionals. Please be aware that seating at each table is limited. Ice cream sundaes will be served.

Serving Beyond the Y

img_3662

Merrill (left) and Moore (right). Photo courtesy of Moore.

By Quincey Taylor

Cookies and milk, movies and popcorn, picnics and watermelon. Some things just go together. The same goes for Heather Merrill and Atalie Moore, BYU nursing alumni and best friends. These two have big plans and big hearts. In March, they will be volunteering in Greece to help with the treatment of a growing refugee population. They will volunteer for DocMobile, a company who gives care to those in need from the back of a van.

Moore and Merrill both graduated from the BYU nursing program in December of 2017. They have enjoyed gaining experience in the medical field since graduation. However, they wanted to find a way to do more. While in school, they had gone on a study abroad to Ecuador and had a chance to serve people there. Both fell in love with the chance to assist international populations in a sustainable way.

The desire to serve refugees in particular was inspired by Merrill’s interest in the Syrian refugee crisis. This war is different than any other we have seen in history, Merrill states, because “they are specifically targeting civilian areas in Syria, like hospitals and schools.” The devastation of the Syrian population has been widespread and drawn out, driving them to neighboring countries for survival

The war in the Middle East has been a seemingly never-ending struggle. Merrill worries that these news stories have become commonplace to Americans. She says, “Every day in Syria people are still getting bombed and it’s created a huge crisis.” Merrill and Moore have a goal of raising awareness to this issue as well as motivating other volunteers to find ways to serve.

They realize that it’s not feasible for everyone who wants to help to go abroad, but luckily there are many opportunities for people to volunteer locally. Merrill says, “Usually the best impact you can make is close by. I love going abroad and helping people but I also hesitate because you have to be aware of the impact you’re going to make.” Moore adds, “In the end, not everyone can go on trips like we’re going on. That’s okay. You don’t have to.”

To find a way to start, they recommend using resources like the Just Serve app, which includes different opportunities to help refugees in areas as close as Salt Lake City.

Moore had their plan confirmed in her mind after an experience while working at the Utah Valley Hospital. A patient of hers was a refugee from the Congo, and they were communicating by typing into an iPad and translating. She says about the experience, “I got talking to her at the beginning of the day, and I asked her about her family and how long have she had been here. She just said, ‘Well, my sister and I were able to escape but the rest of my family was killed.’ I can’t even imagine. That’s her reality. We have no concept of that. We have no idea. That’s just her life. She just has to keep moving forward and find a way to continue on and I think that moment just solidified my desire to help with the refugee crisis. We need to be doing something. There’s such a need.”

Merrill feels that, as a healthcare professional, “You need to be aware of not only the refugee crisis but all of the different crises or hard situations for people around the world. You need to stay aware of current events so that you can raise awareness and help.”

Alumna Receives the President’s Volunteer Service Award

By Mindy Longhurst

pence and swensenImage of Melissa Swensen with Second Lady, Karen Pence. Image courtesy of Pence’s Twitter.

BYU College of Nursing alumna, Melissa Swensen (BS’99) received the President’s Volunteer Service Award in April! She received the award from Second Lady, Karen Pence, from Pence’s office on the White House grounds.

The President’s Volunteer Service Award is given to members of the community who exemplify a remarkable amount of service hours for a cause or organization. There are different requirements for the different levels of awards (children, teens, adults). Swensen received the bronze President’s Volunteer Service Award for her 100+ hours of service she has done in a 12 month time period.

Swensen volunteers as a nurse with the American Red Cross to help those at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence in Fort Belvoir, Virginia. Swensen works with those who have served our country who are currently suffering from PTSD or TBI.

awardThe President’s Volunteer Service Award. Image courtesy of Pence’s Twitter.

The President’s Volunteer Service Award comes with a certificate, an award pin, medallion or coin. The award also comes with a letter from the President of the United States.

Pence even mentioned Swensen on her Twitter page saying, “As part of National Volunteer Week, had the privilege of presenting the President’s Volunteer Service Award to military spouse, Melissa Swensen. She volunteers as a nurse w/the @RedCross at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence @Fort_Belvoir. Congrats! You are amazing!”

guestsSwensen with guests. Image courtesy of Pence’s Twitter.

The volunteer work she does for those who need it really is amazing. But, what is even more amazing is that during her time she has volunteered, Swensen is also getting her psychiatric DNP at George Mason University. In addition, she is a mother of five children and her husband serves in the military! Melissa Swensen really is an amazing lady. Congratulations!

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.

IMG_2365

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.”

IMG_7398

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.”

IMG_2274