The Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing at Emory University honors the hard work and dedication of nurses around the world – the unsung heroes who make such significant contributions with so little fanfare. Whether they are promoting health and preventing disease; providing care at bedside; conducting research; or teaching the next generation of health care providers, nurses use their knowledge and skill to care for people and improve communities every day.
But nurses also received help and support from many along the way. Below, Emory nurses reflect on the amazing individuals and life events that have shaped their careers as nurses.
The most influential person(s) in the development of my career was first my mother, who was a nurse and who encouraged my love of health care and supported my interest in providing individuals with the tools that they needed to stay healthy or to cope with medical concerns. The second influence came in my early 30s through my doctoral program when I met epidemiologist Barbara Valanis, now senior investigator emeritus for the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research. Barbara inspired me to balance nursing and environmental science, taught me how to write successful grant applications and the importance of dissemination of knowledge. Barbara authored several editions of Epidemiology and Health in Nursing and Health. I am fortunate to have had many mentors in my professional career, but these two women were most influential in shaping my professional career.
When I talk about my career as a professional nurse, I often reference the incredible education I have had beginning with the Medical College of Georgia where I received my BSN in 1975 after my Mother’s physician advised her to make sure I attended a school that gave me a bachelor’s degree because he thought that is what ‘nurses needed today.’ Three decades later after exhilarating clinical practice in emergency and cardiology and progressive leadership roles, I received my PhD from the University of Colorado, and that was my true trip to the well loving every minute of those 5 years! All of this background is foundational to my true inspiration. I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time to encounter some very important individuals who inspired me to keep reaching and to actualize the impact nurses should have on patients and communities. First were my parents who taught me how to work hard and keep a sense of humor. Next a CEO showed me the importance of what patients think about the care we provide and a second CEO who pushed me to understand the financial impact of effective nursing care. There were also nurses who inspired me – one CNO who led her organization to be a Magnet hospital – eventually, I did that as well. Also there was another nurse executive who demonstrated the importance of nurse-led research – I followed that lead. Finally, the inspiration I get from nurses keeps me fueled to put love and energy into making sure nursing work environments are healthy because in the right environment, nurses will always do great work and most receive professional joy from their practice. Florence Nightingale is my historical idol, and she challenged leaders not to measure our leadership by what we individually do but how we assure the right things are always done. This is the leadership I live to provide.
My mother, too, was a great influence on my choice to become a nurse, and although she didn’t work outside the home during my childhood, knew she had been a nurse, as did all the neighbors. Adults and children alike came to our house with their questions and minor emergencies, and she knew both what to do, and how to make her “patients” feel at ease. I wanted to be able to do that…which takes me to the second biggest influence on my career choice – my undergrad alma mater. Like Emory, University of Pennsylvania prepared the next generation of nursing leaders, and the critical lessons I learned there have been a major source of my successes over the years.
My Mom was one of the greatest influences and inspirations in my life overall as well as my nursing career. Although she was an educator, not a nurse; her compassion, caring and love of people had a huge impact on me. She taught me to always put others before yourself, evoke trust by your integrity, and to find joy in every situation. She not only taught these, she role modeled them consistently in her own interactions with people. These attributes and values have been my guides throughout my nursing career and have helped keep me focused on what matters most.
I still dream about my years in middle school where most of the teachers just graduated from their teaching program. It was a brand-new school with a bunch of brand-new teachers. Teachers were young, energetic, and most of all, understanding teenagers. I often skipped my daily music lesson to spend more time with my teachers after school. We mostly talked about poetry or played music together. One day, a new teacher arrived. She had a nursing background. She quickly joined our after-school activities. I don’t know exactly why but her stories about her interactions with patients and family members made a great impression on me, and it seemed to me only logical to apply for a nursing school, College of Nursing, Catholic University in Seoul. It is one of the best nursing schools in Korea, known for Hospice care
I grew up with humble beginnings in a small, rural town in Florida. I was one of the first in my family to go to college and then go on to earn a doctoral degree My ‘Big Momma’ (my grandmother) who had a fifth grade education, was married at 14, and had to work in the fields harvesting crops to support her 17 children. While I was in school, my grandmother always said to me, “you’re my doctor.” Her words of encouragement are what motivated me to complete my doctoral education and become a clinician. She also fueled my desire to be a mentor and champion for talented students who weren’t fortunate enough to have a Big Momma.
I became a nurse at age 30 as a second career, and I’ve worked with and been mentored by many inspirational people in the nursing and health care professions. Throughout my career, fellow faculty Dian Evans has been particularly influential: she was my faculty when I was an undergraduate BSN student, she was my preceptor when I was in an FNP program, and she inspired me to get my DNP. She also helped me get an appointment at Emory’s School of Nursing, where I’ve met many other nurses and nursing students who, like Dian, are inspirational to work with.
I had the chance to work with the native Canadians in remote villages as an outpost relief nurse in northern Ontario. I felt inadequately prepared to make an impact in the health of the people I had to repeatedly medivacked out of the villages because of preventable chronic diseases. This same frustration happened after I worked on a renal pulmonary unit at an acute hospital in Atlanta. I found the tools to solving the problem in the form of a Master’s Degree in Public Health Nursing, and later, a Doctorate in Nursing Practice. After working in public health, I also discovered the love of teaching. Having built a career in public health nursing and nursing education, I can say that I have made an impact teaching future nurses to not only care for individuals in sickness, but also promote health and prevent illness for the population.