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


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.


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.”


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.


Sharing EHR with the World

HPSN world

Photo courtesy of the HPSN World website

By Corbin Smith

One of the greatest opportunities a university faculty member can have is to receive funding that allows them to give a presentation at an academic conference. Yes, you read that right. Paid travel to go give a presentation. That is exactly what happened to two of our faculty members: assistant teaching professor Stacie Hunsaker and simulation operations supervisor Kristen Whipple. Last February, MedAffinity, a company that provides electronic heath records software and is the software used by the BYU College of Nursing, sent both Hunsaker and Whipple to the Human Patient Simulation Network (HPSN) World conference in Orlando, Florida to present on BYU’s success using EHR systems in the classroom.

Since the fall of 2016, the BYU College of Nursing has incorporated EHR software for the nursing students in semesters one through five and for graduate students in year one. As students complete labs and assignments, they input what they did into the EHR system. The labs that the students do can be reset after each lab, so students can have the same opportunity to complete the scenario. The flexibility that MedAffinity’s software provides is what helps BYU’s EHR system be so successful compared to other schools.

Many other universities have been wary about using EHR systems due to the difficulty to make it work properly and efficiently. Due to its persistence and patience, the college has shown that it can be done. “That’s what we were trying to do,” Whipple says of her purpose at the conference, “to tell people that it’s doable…and the things that we did could be done with any program.”

One aspect presented by Hunsaker and Whipple at the conference was an orientation implemented by the college. The orientation done by Whipple to students is “another big thing that changed our experience” she says. While nursing students are in their first semester, Whipple and her team of TAs go in and teach them how to input data and save their progress so each student can hit the ground running from day one. This has gone a long way in helping students effectively operate the software.

Over the last few years, university teaching of nursing has quickly turned to the realm of patient simulation and electronic health records, with the BYU College of Nursing leading the way. Hunsaker and Whipple are adamant that these programs will better prepare future nurses for their careers, and thanks to their work to motivate other universities to employ this new technology, the world of nursing is well on its way.

Lauren Leininger’s Advice as She Leaves BYU


Graduate Lauren Leininger looks forward to a bright future. Photo courtesy of Leininger.

By Quincey Taylor

Walking into your last clinical for your senior capstone is an experience all nursing students will eventually have. While sometimes daunting, leaving behind your preceptor to independently care for patients acts as a springboard from which nurses can launch themselves into their new careers. Lauren Jones Leininger, fresh graduate from the BYU College of Nursing, shares her thoughts and advice as she reminisces past experiences and looks towards the future.

Leininger is extremely grateful for the impactful experiences she has had in the BYU nursing program. She truly feels that the individuals she met here have left a lasting impression on her in every aspect of her life.

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Leininger and fellow nursing students on their Global Health trip to Ecuador. Photo courtesy of Leininger.

Here is some of her advice to nursing students that will follow:

  1. Become a licensed practical nurse your fourth semester

Leininger took the NCLEX-PN her fourth semester and became a certified LPN. She works at Horizon Home Health and Hospice, which hires many BYU student nurses every year. With this organization, she does home visits for children. While it is a great option for students to make money while in school, Leininger sees the value it gave her in building personal confidence as a healthcare professional.

She says, “While being an LPN isn’t what I want to do for my nursing career, it’s just been really great to have an experience where I’m the primary caregiver for a patient. I’ve grown a lot by being in charge and making decisions.”

It might seem nerve-racking to not have a preceptor helping you, but it is beneficial in the end. Leininger adds, “My biggest takeaway is I’m capable, I can do this. I’ve gained so much confidence.”

  1. Trust in your preceptor assignment

Leininger’s experience with her capstone preceptor in the Utah Valley Hospital ER was greatly impactful. She says, “The faculty at BYU work a lot to match us up with the right preceptor. I believe there’s inspiration involved with that, because I know that the preceptor I had matched me and was the perfect kind of mentor I needed.”

“At my last clinical shift, my preceptor and I just kind of talked about what my biggest takeaways were, and he left me with the challenge,” she says. He challenged her “to never give report of a patient to another nurse in a way that would taint their perspective of that patient.”

She has taken this challenge to heart and says, “We should be our patient’s advocate and stand up for them. It’s easy to make judgments and think of them a certain way, but this can impede the care you give.”

“Once you tell your own opinion of that patient to another nurse, you’re ruining that next nurse’s experience. My preceptor’s challenge to me was to always give my patients the benefit of the doubt and never, never label them. Because, no matter what, they are a person, a human being, and a child of God. Whatever they’re going through, they deserve respect. They deserve to be given dignity.”

  1. Be as involved in clinicals as you can be

Leininger believes that clinicals are a unique opportunity to learn and put into practice the things you learn in class. She says, “Make the most of every clinical shift you have and learn as much as you can. Be as involved as you can, even if it means measuring your patient’s urine output or something like that. That will show the nurse you’re working with that you want to be there and you’re willing to learn. Then they’re going to be a better mentor and a teacher to you.”

It’s also an important time to make mistakes and learn from fellow nurses, because once you graduate every decision has larger consequences.

  1. Listen to the faculty’s advice

BYU faculty are unlike any other faculty on the planet. They are able to teach not only the temporal but also the spiritual. Leininger is so grateful for the chance to be taught by such amazing faculty.

She says, “Obviously, I’ve never attended another nursing school. So I don’t know exactly how BYU is different from other schools. But I do know for certain that we have the spiritual aspect integrated into our curriculum that isn’t present in other universities. That was my favorite part about the nursing program: how our professors could incorporate the gospel into everything we learned. A huge part of being a nurse is being able to have the spirit with you to help you discern your patient’s needs and to empathize with them.”

That’s what learning the Healer’s art truly is.

In the future, Leininger is preparing to take the NCLEX-RN and find a job as a registered nurse. She feels well-prepared and recognizes the need to continue her education. She says, “A nursing career is a career of lifelong learning. You’re never going to stop learning; things are always changing.”

Thank you, College of Nursing!

By Jessica Tanner

Nursing students are amazingly compassionate, intelligent, and driven people. I am constantly amazed at everything you participate in—the lectures, labs, simulations, and the many hours of clinicals. It has been such an experience for me to be able to sit down and talk with many of you, learn your stories, learn from you, and be able to share what I have learned with others.

So many of you shared inspiring words!  Here are some of my favorites:

“There is no one mold you have to fit to be a nurse.” – Electra Cochran

As I interviewed students and faculty, I repeatedly learned each of you is so unique. It is often our differences, our talents, and our hobbies that make us better able to serve and connect with one another. I am not a nursing student, but this statement holds true no matter the major or profession.

“We go past a lot of people and how much connection you make is up to you.” – Dr. Sabrina Jarvis

Dr. Jarvis taught me that every encounter I have with another person has an effect and I can decide whether that is positive or negative. I was reminded that we often do not know what others are going through until we take the time to talk with them. The littlest things, like smiling or asking “how are you,” often make the biggest difference.

“We meet complete strangers on their worst days ever, their most vulnerable times.” – Elizabeth Eide

Like Dr. Jarvis, Eide has learned the importance of kindness. While she is talking specifically about nursing, it applies to us whether we are in a hospital or not. We often do meet strangers when they are in need.

“I can’t do everything, but I can do something.” – Holly Christensen

I did not interview Christiansen directly, but I was able to hear her speak at The Magic Yarn Project event in March. The quote is from a video on The Magic Yarn Project website. When problems seem too big to be solved, it is a reminder that I can do my part to be part of the solution.

Though I only worked here for a few months, I really enjoyed my time here. Special thanks to Jeff, Quincey, Zak, and Andrew and all College of Nursing staff and faculty. Thanks for being great examples and friends to me and making me feel welcome even though I was not going to be here for very long. You truly are amazing!



“Ray of Sunshine” Sherry Huang Receives DAISY In Training Award for Winter 2019


Huang and her family celebrate her achievement.

By Quincey Taylor

Sherry Huang, sixth semester nursing student, was one of two students to receive this semester’s DAISY In Training Award. This award, intended for extraordinary nurses and nursing students, was given based on nominations written by fellow students. From bringing treats to class to remembering everyone’s names, Huang truly emulates the spirit of the DAISY award.

Learning the names of all her patients and coworkers is really important to Huang. Laura Grenfell, fellow student, says about Huang, “In class, she knows everyone and is aware of the details of everyone’s lives. In clinical, she has compassion for the patients’ troubles and concerns.” When asked about this passion for people’s individual lives, Huang comments, “I think I picked that up from Gay Raye my first semester. As a student, when a professor calls you by name you feel so important. I wanted to be able to do that. I think the little things can show a lot of compassion.”

Compassion is something Huang believes is essential in the workplace. She knows that, “When you’re in the hospital, you’re with people in their worst days. They need compassion in that moment.” Claire Weeks, nursing student, shares an example of how Huang shows compassion on a daily basis: “Sherry never complains, and is able to lift everyone else up around her. Not only does she care for her patients, but she also cares for her other nursing students. For example, on our drive up to Primary Children’s, it was not uncommon for her to bring us all homemade muffins.” When asked about this, Huang laughs, “Food is very therapeutic!”

One of Huang’s most influential role models has been assistant professor Dr. Julie Valentine. She has been inspired by Valentine’s work and hopes to follow in her steps. Emily Santillan, current nursing student, says, “Sherry cares deeply for her patients and constantly strives to make herself into the best nurse possible so she can give excellent care. She has gone through an extra training program to help victims of sexual assault, has helped with research of sexual abuse, and hopes to become a SANE one day.”

It was really special for Huang to have her family there when she received the award. Her mother flew from Wisconsin. Her siblings both attend BYU and were happy to see their sister receive the DAISY award.

Huang has a bubbly personality and is able to stay positive even when things are tough. When asked how she is able to stay happy even on hard days, Huang responds, “I’m used to failure in my life, with school and with different life experiences, and I honestly think that has helped me a lot. If I don’t do well on a test or if something goes wrong at clinical, it’s easy for me to bounce back and think ‘everything will be okay’ because it always has been every time I fail at something.” She also heavily relies on prayer, scripture study, and church attendance to stay positive in difficult times.

To all those that nominated Huang, she wants to say, and I quote, “THANK YOU!!! 😭😭😭” She feels she has been influenced by so many other nursing students and believes, “People influence others a lot more than they think they do.”

Student Mentor Awards: Showing Appreciation to Preceptors

Thoracic ICU at IMC

Student presents mentor with Outstanding Mentor Award. 

By Quincey Taylor

It’s your first clinical at the hospital, and you are extremely nervous. It’s like a whole new world. You’ve read about this in books, but the actual application is so different. Your one lifeline is your preceptor, a fellow nurse that has worked in the field, that is guiding you through your experience. Without him or her, you would be completely lost.

Every semester, students are mentored by fantastic preceptors in many different hospitals throughout Utah and Salt Lake Counties. These nurses willingly volunteer their time and efforts to make students’ clinicals a positive experience. The faculty at the BYU College of Nursing are extremely grateful for these individuals and actively look for ways to express their gratitude. One way they do this is through the Student Mentor Awards. Students are asked to write about their positive experiences with their preceptors. Each of these preceptors are given an award as well as a gift. Clinicals would not be possible without the selfless efforts of student mentors.

Preceptors are given these awards in front of their colleagues, gaining recognition for their skill and care. Recipients who receive the award multiple semesters are given a special certificate and prize. One exceptional preceptor has received the award four times!

For students: To submit a Student Mentor Award nominee, talk to your professor. He or she will have the form to fill out and will deliver it to your preceptor.

New Staff Members: Robert Dickerson and Jon Hardy

robPhoto of Dickerson. Photo courtesy of Leo Liang.

By Quincey Taylor

With the start of the new semester, the College of Nursing welcomes two new staff members to the family. Robert Dickerson will be joining the IT department in administration, and Jon Hardy is taking over as the new Nursing Learning Center Facilities Supervisor. We look forward to getting to know these men a little better and hope their transition is smooth.

Dickerson completed his undergraduate at BYU Idaho studying software engineering. When asked about how he found out about this open position, he laughs, “That’s a funny story.” In Santa Clarita, California, he was part of the singles ward council. The ward council was looking for ways to get members more active in the local self-reliance classes put on by the stake. As part of this motivation, they decided to attend the classes and be an example.

Dickerson attended the classes for twelve weeks without much expectation. He was looking for a job at the time, but did not expect the class to result in his next career path. That’s where he was wrong. The facilitator of the class told him about the opening posted on LinkedIn for a senior software engineer at the College of Nursing, and he applied. He says, “This ended up being one of the best jobs I can find right now in my career. I’m really happy and grateful for this job.”

Outside of work, Dickerson enjoys playing volleyball and being a great uncle to his four nieces and nephews. He taught improv comedy for a year and performed it for three. He loves his family and always looks forward to a trip to the temple.

In the future, Dickerson plans to get a master’s degree in computer science at BYU while continuing working. He says about his new life here in Provo, “I know this is where I need to be.”

jonHardy and his wife and kids. Photo courtesy of Hardy.

As the new NLC Facilities Supervisor, Hardy will act as the ‘man behind the curtain,’ ensuring everything in the Mary Jane Rawlinson Geertsen Nursing Learning Center is running smoothly.

BYU has been a part of Hardy’s life for as long as he can remember. He is originally from Spanish Fork, so he always lived close. His father has been working at BYU for thirty years, currently in the Treasury Services. Hardy had been looking for an opportunity at BYU for a while now, and was overjoyed at this new opportunity to follow in his father’s footsteps.

Before the College of Nursing, Hardy studied at UVU. He also worked as their head custodian over the Student Life and Wellness Center. He graduated from UVU with a degree in technology management.

Hardy is married with two kids, ages four and six. His wife, Olivia, is from Wyoming. The two met here at BYU as students and coworkers.

Outside of work, Hardy enjoys playing board games and spending time with his family. He also loves hiking and the outdoors in general.

Hardy looks forward to helping streamline as much as possible in the simulation lab, making it easier for all participants. “I’m excited,” Hardy exclaims, “to be working with all of the great nursing students and faculty here.”