Luther Alumni Magazine

Thought leaders, change makers, caregivers

A nimble, well-designed, and comprehensive program with a keen eye on the future of healthcare prepares Luther nurses to serve in urban, rural, and ever-increasing outpatient settings—and to be leaders in the rapidly changing healthcare landscape.

Mike Anderson ’99, clinical coordinator and assistant clinical professor of the Anesthesia Nursing Program at the University of Iowa College of Nursing, taught students in Luther’s Nursing 425 course how to administer care to a simulated car accident victim. From left: Victoria Sandeno ’18, Kileigh Dudek ’17, Anderson, Isabel Williams ’17, Coltan Jacobson ’17, Mallory Hinds ’17, and Kate Knepprath ’17.
Mike Anderson ’99, clinical coordinator and assistant clinical professor of the Anesthesia Nursing Program at the University of Iowa College of Nursing, taught students in Luther’s Nursing 425 course how to administer care to a simulated car accident victim. From left: Victoria Sandeno ’18, Kileigh Dudek ’17, Anderson, Isabel Williams ’17, Coltan Jacobson ’17, Mallory Hinds ’17, and Kate Knepprath ’17.

With a 2017 pass rate of 100 percent for the nursing licensing exam, Luther nurses leave their program well prepared. But beyond that, they thrive as bedside practitioners, team caregivers, and leaders at the hospital and healthcare-system levels. Here, we survey a few Luther nursing grads and take a closer look at the program that prepared them for lives of leadership, critical decision-making, compassion, and service. 

The liberal arts forge strong nurses

Luther’s nursing faculty make a strong distinction between the bachelor of arts degree, which Luther offers, and the bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree. Angela Kueny ’02, associate professor of nursing, explains, “Nurses take care of human beings, and medical providers focus on medical pathologies and biological processes. Nurses must understand humans in order to provide care because a nurse is working with how an illness and healing fit into your life—the ‘into your life’ picture is a strength a liberal arts student brings in contrast to BSN students, whose education is primarily science-focused.” 

April Rowe Neal ’01, associate professor of nursing and department head, says, “Whenever somebody asks if it’s really appropriate for a nurse to be in the liberal arts, I say, ‘Who do you want taking care of you or a loved one when you’re ill? Do you want someone who’s going to focus on your disease process and how the medicines work, or do you want somebody who can use that knowledge in the context of your human experience?’”

Kueny also points out the broader skill set of a liberal arts student: “They have to take religion, language, a yearlong Paideia class, and other intensive history and intercultural classes in which they have to write a lot. Nurses have to know how to communicate really well with written language, so our graduates are well prepared in this regard.”

Rural and urban training

While Decorah-area hospitals and clinics offer rural experiences for students, Luther leverages its Rochester, Minn., satellite campus and strong partnerships with industry leaders like Mayo Clinic to expose students to urban healthcare as well.

“We’ve started an internship program that allows students to work one-on-one with a nurse in both rural and urban agencies,” Kueny says. “Some of the nurses who come from smaller-town America want to go back and work in their hometown community hospital or be their town nurse practitioner. Others want to go into a highly intensive large medical institution like Mayo. It’s really unique to have a split campus, one in a rural and one in an urban area.”

The split campus allows students to experience a wider range of healthcare settings—for example, early childhood centers in northeast Iowa or the Federal Medical Center at the federal prison in Rochester—and a wider range of medical situations. And what they don’t experience through clinicals or internships, they experience through simulation.

Simulation fills in the gaps

Luther’s state-of-the-art simulation lab, supported by a Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust grant and an endowment by Michael ’99 and Carryn (Ensrude) Anderson ’99, includes three clinical lab rooms and high-fidelity mannequins with audio-visual components.

“We don’t have any control over what kinds of learning opportunities students will get in a clinical setting,” Rowe Neal says. “And as fast as hospitals are recovering patients and getting them moved back into their home setting, something as simple as hanging an IV is just one skill that students don’t get to practice very often. Having the ability to do that within the simulation lab provides students a contextualized, standardized learning opportunity that everybody’s going to have.”

“Students have wonderful opportunities to use simulation in every single class on the Luther campus,” Kueny says. “We use our lab extensively. It’s a standout part of our program.”

Preparing for outpatient care

As healthcare costs skyrocket, there’s a push to discharge patients earlier, which transfers the burden of care outside the hospital. To address this shift, Luther nursing faculty recently revised the curriculum to require a clinical immersion in outpatient clinic-based areas during a student’s junior year.

“Patients are going back to their homes and communities sicker and requiring more complex support in the ambulatory, or outpatient, environment,” Rowe Neal says. “So we’re really trying to layer the knowledge and skills our students develop to teach them how to examine a problem, dive into the evidence, make sense of that evidence, and effect change as a leader either at the bedside or more formally.”

Rowe Neal cites students who observed in an emergency department and noticed how much work a nurse did just to get a patient back home. “The patient came to the emergency department too ill to walk but not ill enough to be admitted to the hospital,” she says. “So the nurse had to work really hard with the family, the insurance company, and a transportation company to get the patient safely back home. That was really eye-opening for the students. They understood how to use the nursing process at the bedside, but they didn’t have a good sense of the bigger picture. So it’s been very exciting for us to see how that class helps students develop in their understanding of the US healthcare system as a whole, how it’s broken, and how they might be in a position to help fix it.”

Through extensive hands-on experience, strong partnerships with industry leaders, experience in rural, urban, and outpatient settings, a top-notch simulation lab, and a liberal arts curriculum that teaches a nuanced, holistic perspective, Luther nurses are preparing to take on the full continuum of patient care and instigate change at all levels of healthcare. Read more about some of these nurses below.

Alpa (Palicha) Uchil ’01

Alpa (Palicha) Uchil '01

Senior clinical nurse at the Johns Hopkins Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Clinic

Describe an impactful nursing experience you had as an undergrad.
My nursing clinical experience at Mayo Clinic was what really exposed me to the concept of nursing and caring for people. Experiences ranged from visiting prisons to people’s homes to caring for the most serious patients at a renowned teaching hospital. I came away from all these instances loving nursing and feeling assured that it was the right path for me.

Is working in your field what you imagined?
Yes and no. Nursing is beautiful in that you go through several aspects of this profession and come out on the other side with yet more to learn. You learn unfathomable skills, you learn to be super organized and multitask like a maniac, you learn to develop leadership skills, and you learn to be comfortable with strangers who are your patients while understanding the tremendous responsibility bestowed upon you to care for someone you never met.

Elena Geiger-Simpson ’07

Elena Geiger-Simpson '07

Clinical assistant professor at the University of Minnesota; psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner

How will the nursing profession change over the next 20 years?
Nurses have always been at the forefront of change, but I think that more nurses are continuing their education and getting advanced degrees. In the next 20 years, I see advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) having full practice authority in every state. Nurses will continue to play an essential role in improving the quality and access to high-quality healthcare. I also think that we will see an increase in doctorally prepared nurses who will become the leaders, policy makers, and researchers at the forefront of changing the healthcare system.

How has your liberal arts education impacted your nursing practice?
Having a liberal arts education has broadened the lens through which I practice. My ability to see different perspectives, problem-solve, and think critically was in large part due to having a liberal arts education. For example, I took an environmental philosophy course at Luther that shaped how I look at our actions and how they impact the environment. Healthcare facilities are generally not good stewards of the environment. In one of my workplaces, I worked to change processes to incorporate reusable materials to minimize environmental impact. I was also able to study Spanish as a second major, which has equipped me to work more effectively with Spanish-speaking patients.

What’s the biggest misconception people have about nurses?
That all nurses work in a hospital. Nurses don’t just work in the hospital at the bedside. They are healers, researchers, educators, leaders, policy makers, providers, and change makers.

Jess (Mallams) Streeter ’12

Jess (Mallams) Streeter '12

Pre-Surgical Testing Department APRN at St. Anthony’s Memorial Hospital in Effingham, Ill.

Tell us about your work.
My responsibilities include completing patient histories and physicals on patients prior to surgery, as well as offering education related to anesthesia, surgical risks, and smoking cessation. I also serve as an orthopedic nurse navigator and help teach a bone and joint education class for hip or knee joint replacement patients.

What’s the biggest misconception people have about nurses?
In an advanced nurse practitioner role, people look at us as bedside nurses and do not understand that our advanced education makes us amazing primary care providers.

Elise Heiser ’17

Elise Heiser '17

Cardiovascular surgical unit registered nurse (RN) at St. Mary’s Hospital in Rochester, Minn.

Describe an impactful nursing experience you had as an undergrad.
I had the opportunity to travel to Peru and work with an organization to provide health resources to remote areas. This embedded the importance of health literacy and equity in my priorities. Further, it sparked my interest in public health as an outlet for nursing to make an impact.

When things at work get tough, what do you tell yourself?
I remind myself why I chose this career path in the first place. I tell myself that I work hard to help others, that I have a lot of knowledge that is worth sharing, and that there is purpose in my actions.

What’s the biggest misconception people have about nurses?
That nurses simply follow orders prescribed by physicians. However, nurses make hundreds of decisions regarding their patients’ care on any given day. Especially in the hospital setting, patient outcomes are directly linked to the ability of the nurse to think critically and prioritize care.

Selena LeGarde ’17

Selena LeGarde '17

Pediatric and adolescent psychiatric unit RN at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

Tell us about your work.
I work on the pediatric and adolescent psychiatric unit as a registered nurse. This is an acute psychiatric unit, so our patients are at a high risk of being unsafe toward themselves or others. . . . As nurses, we do a lot of education for patients and families and a lot of planning for safety after discharge.

How has your liberal arts education impacted your nursing practice?
I could not be happier that I had a liberal arts education. I am so much more well-rounded! A couple of non-nursing classes that stand out to me in particular are Intro to Counseling (I apply lots of the skills that I learned in this class every day, and I still reference the books from that class all the time!), Christian Ethics (especially in regard to transgender ethical debates), behavioral statistics (helps me with reading research articles and understanding them better), all the psych classes I was able to take, studying abroad in Vietnam (helps with cultural competency), and I could go ON and ON.

Kathryn (Onda) Tart ’81

Kathryn (Onda) Tart '81

Founding dean of the College of Nursing at the University of Houston

Is working in your field what you imagined?
I did not expect to become a faculty member or, for that matter, a dean. However, nursing is such a wonderful field. There are so many avenues one can take in this profession. The profession gives you a lifetime of opportunities and ways to make a difference in the world around you, whether at the bedside, in the classroom, at a community event, or in a congressional office in Washington, D.C.

Karin (Robeck) Mayo ’97

Karin (Robeck) Mayo '97

Pediatric critical care nurse at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta

Tell us about your work.
I have worked as a pediatric critical care nurse for nearly 15 years. Much of the care I provide is for children with congenital heart defects. I get to care not only for the patient receiving the medical care, but also their families. For some families, the experience of having a child undergo heart surgery is one of the most stressful times of their lives. I get to work with these families . . . helping them understand what is happening with their child and translating what can often be confusing medical language. Sometimes you are with them for a shift, and other patients may be there days to months, depending on their circumstance.

Mike Anderson ’99

Mike Anderson '99

Clinical coordinator and assistant clinical professor of the Anesthesia Nursing Program at the University of Iowa College of Nursing; certified RN anesthetist at the University of Iowa

Tell us about the best or worst day you’ve had on the job.
One of my favorite stories was when I went to see a patient in the preoperative area, and he was extremely nervous. I pride myself on being able to develop a rapport with my patients and alleviate their anxiety. I really struggled to do that in this case. I sat there with him and talked about his medical history and my plan for his anesthetic. I just couldn’t get through to him. At one point I placed my right hand on his knee, and he looked down and noticed my Luther class ring. He immediately sat up and asked if I was a Luther grad, and I responded yes. He sat back on the gurney, and a sense of calm came over him. He said, “I am also a Luther grad, and now I know that everything is going to be okay.”

How will the nursing profession change over the next 20 years?
Regulatory agencies are recognizing the need for nurses to be able to practice to the fullest extent of their scope of practice and that nurses are leaders in the industry and need to have an equal seat at the table. Over the next 20 years, I see advanced practice nurses filling the void in much-needed areas, especially primary care and psych/mental health. We need to ensure that patients have access to high-quality, cost-effective healthcare, and advanced practice nurses are the answer to this growing problem.

Shelby (Oelschlager) Bowman ’16

Shelby (Oelschlager) Bowman '16

Cardiac Care Unit RN at Allen Hospital in Waterloo, Iowa

How has your liberal arts education impacted your nursing practice?
I am able to think more critically about a plan of care for each of my patients and personalize these to the patient’s own experience. . . . Luther allowed for clinical experience in a variety of specialties, as well as at different facilities, which prepared me to be any kind of nurse I want to be.

What’s the biggest misconception people have about nurses?
I don’t think everyone knows the entirety of what a nurse’s job entails. Nurses also are counselors, care coordinators, educators, leaders, providers, researchers, secretaries, and teachers. We work to promote health understanding for our patients, families, and communities. We care not only for our patients, but also for their families and loved ones.

Kris (Thomas) Dreifuerst '85

40 years of nursing at Luther

This spring marks the 40th anniversary of Luther’s first nursing graduating class. The department will mark the occasion at Homecoming, Oct. 25–28. Kris (Thomas) Dreifuerst ’85, associate professor of nursing at Marquette University in Milwaukee and president of the International Nursing Association for Clinical Simulation and Learning, will deliver the inaugural Ironside Distinguished (Alumni) Lecture in Nursing, funded by Pamela (Magnussen) ’81 and Jay Ironside ’81. Dreifuerst is a leading researcher on nursing simulations and debriefing for meaningful learning, and her work was referenced heavily in developing Luther’s simulation lab protocols.