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Jayme Nelson '87

Associate professor of nursing

Professional accreditations: Registered nurse and adult nurse practitioner.

First year teaching at Luther: 2000

When she's not in clinicals with students until midnight: Plays piano passionately, knits Norwegian sweaters with complicated patterns, and reads voraciously.

Campus-related crutch: Caffeine! She has cut back, though, from two pots a day to two big cups.

Soft-spoken and unassuming, Jayme doesn't at first appear the kind of person who is everywhere at once. But she is--if her office in Valders is any indication.

On her bulletin board, she has photos of and notes from students she advises. On one chair sits a fat binder and stack of materials relating to the Decorah Free Clinic, whose board and volunteer staff she serves.

Pinned above her (stuffed) bookcase are drawings by her teenage daughter. On one corner of her desk are notes from a meeting she attended with her fellow instructors at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. And in her inbox is an email from a former student who studied with her in Luther's Nottingham (England) program over the summer, comparing the role of nursing in socialized medicine with nursing in the privatized American system.

Jayme's cup of buttered-rum-flavored coffee is extra tall this morning--because she was at Winneshiek Medical Center supervising nursing students from 2 p.m. to midnight last night. But, as she does to relate with students and patients alike, she takes a sip and borrows the time to share her story.

"Initially, I was unsure what I wanted in my undergraduate degree, "Jayme explains, adding that she felt drawn to both medical research and writing.

After she graduated with a nursing degree from Luther, she packed her car and drove to Boulder, Colo., where she worked in a busy community hospital. Exploring her love of writing, she also tried prepping witnesses and researching medical precedent as a paralegal for a large defense firm in Denver. But she discovered that she missed patient care and found her ethics tested to their limit. "In some cases, defending doctors and nurses, it was clear there was wrong-doing," she explains.

The defense-law experience now informs her teaching and practice, she says. "Knowing how critical evidence and proof can be, I'm always watching, encouraging, and discussing documentation with students." She also teaches about integrity and finding the right moral fit within a profession. "I remind students--who can be idealistic--that there may come a time when they'll have to choose between integrity and career."

In 1993, Jayme moved to Madison, Wis., to work in a major trauma and transplant hospital. Naturally busy, she finished her master's as an adult nurse practitioner and, coincidentally, took her graduate advisor's place in a free clinic upon graduation (she was hired during a maternity leave). There, immersed in diagnoses that were "all over the board," she discovered that clinical work with the poor and underinsured fulfilled her professionally.

"Half our patients were illegal immigrants who had gone without treatment until they were profoundly ill. The other half were college kids needing screening for STDs. It was always interesting," she says.

Just as Jayme's contract at the clinic drew to a close, Luther College called, asking if she'd join the nursing faculty. "It's an odd thing to come back to the community you grew up in [she graduated from North Winn, north of Decorah] and work with professors who were your teachers," she explains. But she loves combining teaching and practice--she quickly became involved with the fledgling Decorah Free Clinic.

"Working with students is profoundly more moving and life-changing than I thought," Jayme says. "I get to know them on a personal level--their personality, their struggles, their humor--especially when we spend so much time in clinicals. I see them when they're nervous doing something for the first time, and I see them reaching out and teaching other students and patients. It's been a gift to be here."