Category Archives: Alumni

From the Ballroom to the Emergency Room: Nursing Student Helps BYU Dance Team Win International Dance Competition

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Nicole Udall and her team leave victorious. Photo courtesy of BYU Dance Instagram.

By Quincey Taylor

On June 18, the Brigham Young University dance team returned victorious from the 2019 British Open Championship in Blackpool, England. Teams from various countries, including places like China and the Czech Republic, came to try and claim the title. BYU’s spectacular students, including recent nursing graduate Nicole Udall, brought them to victory. Their Latin dance team took first place overall, and the ballroom dance team took second.

Finding her Dancing Shoes

Coming to dance at BYU had been a dream of Udall’s since she was a little girl. As a child, she had danced different styles, including jazz and lyrical. She had no idea, however, that ballroom would eventually become her passion.

Her brother introduced Udall and her fraternal twin to the world of ballroom. At the time, he was on the BYU ballroom dance team going on tours. He had been doing ballroom since he was 13, and he wanted his younger sisters to start in that same stage of life. Udall and her sister loved to see their brother perform and to see the impact he was making.

She was inspired to try out ballroom for herself, and Udall loved it. She set the goal to one day dance on the BYU ballroom dance team and was successful, along with her twin.

Dance Led Her to Nursing

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Udall’s first IV insertion! Photo courtesy of Udall.

Udall soon found nursing, and immediately knew that it was the career for her. “I wanted to work with people,” she says, “As a dancer, I was so used to that. I wanted to have a deeper relationship with the people I worked with. When I looked for a career with those aspects, I found nursing. It checked those boxes that I had. I also wanted to find a degree that was intellectually challenging. I wanted to find something that would build me as a person and help me develop.”

Balancing Interests

However, balancing these two interests was not always easy. She reflects, “When I first came to the Y, I thought, ‘I’m going to do ballroom, that’s why I wanted to come to BYU.’ Then I found nursing. I was like, ‘This is the thing for me, this is the degree I want to do.’ However, when I was talking to people, they told me there’s no way I could do both. Nursing is a huge commitment. It definitely takes 100% of your effort. But dancing was such a part of me that I didn’t want to give it up.”

Udall did not give up and found a way to be able to do both. She says, “The thing that helped me balance the two was being able to communicate early with people. If you wait until the last minute, and came up to a professor and said, ‘Hey, I’m going to be gone this week.’ Then they would say, ‘What? You can’t do that.’ Being able to communicate early and to present solutions to problems was key.”

She has worked on being present for whatever she is doing at the moment, and says, “It’s also helpful to learn to prioritize, giving 100% of my effort to whatever I was doing at the time. If I was doing nursing, I was focused on nursing. If I was dancing, I was focused on dancing.”

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Va va voom! Photo courtesy of Udall.

After years dancing, Udall attributes many life lessons to ballroom. She says, “You learn how to unify as a team and be able to build relationships with other people. You’re not only working with a whole team, you’re working as partners as well. It’s important to be able to communicate with one another and problem solve, while still being happy and joyful while you work hard towards a goal.”

Another blessing Udall has gained from dance was her husband, who took a ballroom class where they met.

Udall is not the only nursing student to be on the ballroom dance team. She has always been happy to give advice to other nurses helping them to balance their passions. Having others going through the same thing is comforting and empowering.

The Championship

Udall was ecstatic to compete at the British Open Championship this year, as it was her last year as a BYU undergraduate as well as a competing ballroom dancer. While she has competed on both teams, this year she danced ballroom instead of Latin. She comments, “It was a culmination of our whole experience working together. We were all working towards this common goal unifying as a team through the ups and the downs. Seeing the reward of our progress was really cool.”

Team members support one another throughout the experience. Udall explains, “We got to watch each other, and we are each other’s biggest fans. We were so excited.”

Advice for Future Students

When asked what Udall would tell other nursing students struggling to balance multiple interests, Udall says, “I think the best advice I could give is to just go for it! A lot of people will tell you that you can’t do things because they don’t know how you can do them. However, being open to early communication and being a problem solver can make it possible.”

She expounds, “Live your dreams. There were many times that I wanted to give up, but letting go of one passion was like letting go of a part of me. I think it’s important to still go for your dreams and live them, just prioritize and communicate.”

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Udall (third from the right) and her fellow students pose with associate teaching professor Dr. Shelly Reed. Photo courtesy of Udall.

Plans After Graduation

After graduation and the dance championship, Udall plans on studying for and taking the NCLEX. She looks to find a job in the emergency room in Arizona, where she and her husband are moving. She plans to eventually go to school for a master’s degree to continue her education.

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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.

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.

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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.”

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.