Nurse of the Week: From Associate’s Degree to DNP, Illinois State Nursing Alum Michael Gnidovec Reaches Higher

Nurse of the Week: From Associate’s Degree to DNP, Illinois State Nursing Alum Michael Gnidovec Reaches Higher

Our Nurse of the Week is Michael Gnidovec, born and raised near Peru, Illinois, who began his nursing journey at Illinois Valley Community College. After finishing his two-year associate’s degree in nursing, Gnidovec joined the nursing workforce before going on to pursue his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in nursing, continuing to reach higher after achieving each new goal.

While working two jobs as a nurse at a nearby hospital and part-time school nurse, Gnidovec decided he wanted to do more with his nursing career and began exploring RN to BSN programs. Illinois State University’s Mennonite College of Nursing stood out to him because you can complete the online RN to BSN program in as little as one year.

Gnidovec tells, “I was working two jobs, actually. I worked full-time at St. Margaret’s Hospital in Spring Valley as a medical-surgical and pediatric nurse, and I also worked part-time as a school nurse for Peru Public Schools. I was lucky — in that area of Illinois, because it is small, most employers don’t require bachelor’s degrees.”

Thanks to help and support from his professors, Gnidovec was able to work two jobs while going to school full time. Gnidovec found that the things he was learning applied directly to the work he was doing, allowing him to put his clinical work as a nurse into context. The public health course work was particularly impactful for Gnidovec as a lot of associate’s degree programs lack exposure in that area.

After completing his BSN, Gnidovec went on to earn his master’s degree in nursing with a clinical nurse leader focus from Rush University. He also recently started St. Francis Medical Center College of Nursing’s post-master’s certificate in adult gerontology clinical nurse specialist. However, he’s not stopping there. Gnidovec is now exploring Doctor of Nursing Practice programs and thinking about returning to Mennonite College of Nursing for their online DNP program.

Thankful for everything his nursing education has given him, Gnidovec tells, “Having a bachelor’s degree made me marketable. The skills I learned in the RN to BSN program at Illinois State allow me to be an effective leader. I can navigate policy changes and understand the reasons behind them. I can see things from the perspective of both upper management and my peers. I appreciate evidence-based practice.”

With his master’s degree under his belt, Gnidovec currently works at Mayo Clinic as a charge nurse. To learn more about Gnidovec’s path to nursing, visit here.

Nurse of the Week: From Fast Food Employee to Registered Nurse, Faye Lewis’ Career Journey Goes Viral

Nurse of the Week: From Fast Food Employee to Registered Nurse, Faye Lewis’ Career Journey Goes Viral

Faye Lewis has overcome many challenges to achieve her dream career in nursing. Single motherhood, deaths in the family, and working multiple jobs have made her journey harder but not impossible for Faye who graduated with her BSN degree last year and recently began a doctorate in nursing program through the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Nursing as part of her long-term goal to become a nurse practitioner.

On September 6, Lewis posted a photo to Facebook showing all of the nametags and work IDs she has proudly worn throughout her journey to a successful nursing career while working jobs to support herself and her son, AJ. The post quickly went viral, inspiring more than 100,000 shares and 4,000 comments of encouragement from across the country, almost all of them from strangers.

Lewis, 27, is currently a registered nurse (RN) working full-time on the intermediate-care unit at Memorial Medical Center. She is the youngest child of four in a working-class family from Springfield, IL. Her journey started over 10 years ago when she got her first job as a KFC crew member at 16 years old. She has also held positions as a housekeeper at an assisted-living center, nursing assistant, licensed practical nurse, and now registered nurse.

Lewis says she initially posted the photo of her job badges to help encourage herself. She tells the State Journal-Register, “I was having a rough day. It was the second week of grad school. So the response that the post received was very shocking to me.” Looking at all that she overcome gives her the motivation to keep going. Lewis has faced many challenges along the way from becoming a single parent at age 20 to the loss of her father and three other family members in a house fire in 2013.

Through it all, she remembers her lifelong dream to become a nurse and continues to find a way to pursue that passion. After beginning her career as a CNA, Lewis worked her way up through an LPN program, associate’s degree in nursing, and finally her bachelor’s degree in nursing which she completed in 2016 through Benedictine University.

Lewis admits it hasn’t been easy to be an employee, student, and mother at the same time, but she has had much-needed help throughout her journey from family and colleagues. Cathy Steckel, director of nursing operations at Memorial Medical Center, tells, “Her story certainly speaks to the passion she has for nursing. She’s an integral part of a great nursing team at Memorial.”

Now on a path to becoming a nurse practitioner, Lewis is on track to finish her doctorate degree in nursing in 2021. To learn more about Faye Lewis and her inspiring career journey, visit here.

Nurse of the Week: Nursing Student Brayan Aguirre Determined to Succeed Despite DACA Uncertainty

Nurse of the Week: Nursing Student Brayan Aguirre Determined to Succeed Despite DACA Uncertainty

Our Nurse of the Week is Brayan Aguirre, a DACA recipient who is pursuing a nursing degree at Harper College amidst uncertainty of what the future holds for those protected by the program. Forced to work harder than most other 20-year-old college students, Aguirre spends his free time helping to support his family through a job at a nearby rehabilitation facility. He is committed to achieving his goals despite the daily uncertainty that comes with being an immigrant who wasn’t born in the US.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was enacted five years ago under the Obama administration. It’s an immigration policy allowing children brought to the United States illegally by their parents to get temporary reprieve from deportation and receive permission to work, study, and obtain a driver’s license. Recipients must have arrived in the US before the age of 16, have a clean criminal record, and be enrolled in high school, college, or the military.

Aguirre’s family moved to Arlington Heights, IL from Durango, Mexico when he was just eight years old and he has never been back to visit. After living in daily fear of the unknown, many of Aguirre’s fears subsided when DACA was created. Being approved for the program meant he could get a job that didn’t pay cash under the table, that he could legally drive to work, and that he could finally hope for a better future in which he didn’t have to live in fear of an unexpected immigration raid.

For most of his life, Aguirre felt that he was at a disadvantage and that planning for the future was a waste of time. But after being approved as a DACA beneficiary, he was accepted into a selective medical chemistry class which confirmed his decision to pursue a career in healthcare. He also explains his family’s support for his career choice in an interview with

“My mom had always pushed me to have an interest in medicine because I had group B streptococcal meningitis as a baby and almost died. The medical profession saved my life, and increasing access to better health care was one of the big reasons my parents moved here. I started to feel like I wanted to give back somehow. I want to take care of people and hopefully have a positive impact on people’s lives.”

DACA beneficiaries don’t qualify for financial aid, so Aguirre set his sights on Harper, an affordable college option thanks to privately funded scholarships that eased the financial burden of pursuing a nursing degree. Aguirre first set out to earn his licensed practical nurse certificate, and he is now finishing prerequisites for a bridge program to a registered nurse degree which he hopes to begin in the spring.

Following an announcement in early September that DACA will be phased out over the next six months, the cloud of uncertainty that Aguirre grew up under has now resurfaced. However, for the time being he has no plans to change course on his path to a career in nursing. He has sought support through a group for Harper DACA students and begun sharing his story to help others understand the benefits and importance of the DACA program.

To learn more about the DACA program and Aguirre’s experience pursuing a nursing degree as a DACA recipient, visit here.

Illinois State University College of Nursing Receives AACN Award for Innovation in Nursing Education

Illinois State University College of Nursing Receives AACN Award for Innovation in Nursing Education

Illinois State University’s Mennonite College of Nursing (MCN) recently received the Innovations in Professional Nursing Education Award from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) for their redesigned undergraduate pediatric clinical experience.

MCN’s undergraduate clinical experience is called America’s Promise School Project (APSP), a program for traditional and accelerated BSN program students which places them in elementary and secondary school sites in urban and rural settings. The project is MCN’s answer to a marked decrease in pediatric clinical opportunities available to students, with a redesigned emphasis on pediatric and public health.

Health care is beginning to shift away from traditional clinical settings into community settings, requiring nurses to be prepared to assess, support, and care for families in a variety of settings. Nursing students in the program will learn about public health issues and challenges that children and families with chronic health issues face while navigating the health care system. MCN Dean Judy Neubrander tells

“This national recognition is a testament to the creative problem-solving employed by our faculty in order to provide quality education experiences for our students and to focus on the health and well-being of those in our community.”

The APSP model prepares MCN graduates to adapt to an evolving health care system and it’s already having a real-world impact. The awards program is intended to recognize outstanding work of AACN member schools who have re-envisioned traditional models for nursing education and leading programmatic change. MCN will also receive a monetary prize of $1,000 to be presented at the AACN’s Fall meeting at the end of October.

To learn more about MCN’s America’s School Promise Project, visit here.

Illinois Community Colleges Push to Award Bachelor’s Degrees in Nursing

Illinois Community Colleges Push to Award Bachelor’s Degrees in Nursing

Illinois is currently facing a shortage of registered nurses (RNs) coupled with a growing demand from employers that entry-level RNs hold four-year bachelor’s degrees. In response to these issues, Illinois community colleges are pushing for the ability to award Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degrees.

This movement has largely been met by opposition from Illinois universities who say they are willing to work collaboratively with community colleges to increase the number of nurses in the state who hold four-year degrees, but they don’t believe community colleges should be in the business of awarding bachelor’s degrees on their own. Other states have created partnerships between community colleges and universities to address similar shortage and education level issues.

The Illinois Senate committee held a hearing in early November to encourage conversation between community colleges and universities about a proposal to allow communities colleges to hand out bachelor’s degrees in the future. They don’t plan to move forward with the bill until the General Assembly is seated in January, but there are discussions about revising the bill before it’s passed, possibly to limit the proposal to community colleges in high-need areas only.

Senator Andy Manar, sponsor for the community college bill, says his support of the proposal isn’t about going after universities or causing conflict and controversy in the nursing community; he simply wants to make sure that underserved communities in Illinois receive healthcare. Manar also makes it clear that nursing shortages aren’t just an issue for hospitals. In his own district, nursing homes, doctors’ offices, and other health care facilities are all struggling to find enough qualified nurses to fill their positions.

A 2015 report from the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation estimates that one-third of registered nurses aged 55 and older plan to retire within the next five years, which could lead to a worsened shortage in the near future. Illinois law requires that registered nurses in the state hold either an associate or bachelor’s degree; however, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a bachelor’s degree is now the national entry-level education requirement for registered nurses. Today’s policies in Illinois leave a large number of communities behind.

There are many benefits to allowing community colleges to award bachelor’s degrees in nursing. For one, it would allow students and working nurses to stay close to home, saving time and money while working toward their bachelor’s degree. There is also a capacity issue for universities. An estimated 44 percent of qualified applicants were turned down from Illinois BSN programs in 2013 due to lack of capacity. The proposal is largely meant to fix an access issue and employer-driven effort to meet workforce needs. However, if the bill is passed it will be up to individual schools to decide if they are interested in creating BSN programs. The state expects about a half dozen to a dozen to pursue new programs if allowed.

Nurse of the Week: Rachel Reichlin Honored as One of 40 Under 40 Emerging Nurse Leaders in Illinois

Nurse of the Week: Rachel Reichlin Honored as One of 40 Under 40 Emerging Nurse Leaders in Illinois

The American Nurses Association Illinois has chosen Rachel Reichlin, our Nurse of the Week, as one of their 2nd Annual 40 Under 40 Emerging Nurse Leader Winners. Rachel is the Manager of Care Management for CountyCare, a Medicaid managed health plan offered by the Cook County Health & Hospitals System (CCHHS) in Chicago, IL.

The 40 Under 40 Emerging Nurse Leader Winners are chosen by a panel of peers based on professional achievement, leadership, and community and association involvement. As a manager at CountyCare, Rachel helped build the company’s infrastructure and she now oversees the care coordination services offered to ensure that members receive the right care. Colleagues who nominated Rachel commended her for creating and putting new policies for population care management into place, as well as using data analytics to create Medicaid coverage innovations for their members.

In her free time, Rachel donates her time to several community non-profits and professional associations. She is involved with the Health and Medicine Policy Research Group, The Heartland Alliance School Based Health Center at Uplift, and Nurses for Social Justice. Rachel has also traveled internationally in the past to partner with communities conducting health assessments in Israel, the Dominican Republic, and Guatemala.

Rachel completed her undergraduate degree at the Rush University College of Nursing before pursuing a master’s in Public Health and Nursing at the University of Illinois Chicago. Prior to starting her work with CCHHS in 2014, Rachel was a maternal and child health care manager at PCC Salud Family Health Center and a domestic violence prevention advocate. The 2nd Annual 40 Under 40 Emerging Nurse Leader Winners were awarded in September at Rush University Medical Center.

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