Tag Archives: spotlight

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.

Living in Harmony with Nursing

IMG_3171

BYU Philharmonic Orchestra Performance. Photo courtesy of Utley.

By Quincey Taylor

First semester nursing student Morgan Utley has a lot on her plate. Not only did she get accepted to the nursing program in January, but she is one of only two current nursing students that are performers in the BYU Philharmonic Orchestra. They will be performing on the 13th of February, 2019.

Utley’s passion for nursing started when her grandpa moved from Montana to Utah to stay in an assisted-care facility. He has had advanced Parkinson’s disease since he was 32. Because he was now closer to where she was living, Utley was able to see him more often. She says, “I started to spend a lot more time with him, and I just found that I liked bonding with him and other patients at the care facility. I ended up talking to the nurses there a lot, finding out what they do and trying to understand why they were giving him certain medications. I subconsciously got so involved in his care and even the treatment of other patients, that I decided this was something I should try in school.” Utley then started the dramatic switch from music to nursing major.

At the same time, Utley started volunteering at Intermountain Medical Center to see if nursing was a good fit. She was immediately placed in the ICU after telling hospital administrators, “Give me your hardest unit. Don’t put me at the info desk, I want to know if this is something I want to do!” She loved taking the prerequisites for the program and feels that, “Everything just clicked.”

Balancing the two passions is not always easy. When asked how she does it, Utley comments, “Honestly, it’s tough. I don’t want to completely give up music. It’s a part of me, it’s something I’ve been doing since I was seven years old. It’s a class I really enjoy, and it helps me stay well-rounded.” She hopes this skill will eventually help her get into a master’s program, especially considering colleges are partial to students with additional skills and passions outside the medical field.

Utley plans to continue playing the viola for “the Phil” until she graduates, although she recognizes that sometimes her nursing obligations will need to take precedent. For now, she will continue to show up to orchestra practice — clad in her hospital scrubs.

The Philharmonic Orchestra will be performing on February 13th at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available in the HFAC. Notorious for pushing the limits of university-level orchestras, they will be performing Brahm’s 3 (which many schools would consider out of the skill range of their students), an original piece written by a BYU composition major student, and a never-recorded Argentine piece written in the late 1800’s.