Our Nurse of the Week is Tarah Foster Akard, a pediatric palliative care researcher at Vanderbilt University who is working to improve coping and adjustment for children with life-threatening illnesses. Akard knew from a young age that she would pursue a job in healthcare, but she also had a passion for softball and had to deal with criticism that pursuing both at the college level wouldn’t work. Now she’s using life skills she learned from playing softball to help young children.
Akard grew up in Tennessee near Vanderbilt. Her favorite subject in school growing up was science, and she knew early on she wanted a job related to healthcare. However, her main goal when deciding where to go to college was to play Division 1 softball so she ended up attending Jacksonville State University in Alabama on an athletic scholarship.
Looking back on her undergraduate years, Akard says being a student athlete defined her experience. It taught her to be self-disciplined, how to collaborate with a team, and how to manage her time, all skills that she now uses in her nursing research career. Even though softball season often caused Akard to miss her classes, she was still making A’s in biology and felt drawn to it even though she couldn’t see a career in it.
After deciding to major in biology anyway, Akard then went on to pursue her master of science in nursing degree at Vanderbilt and became a pediatric nurse practitioner. She returned to her hometown to work in pediatric primary care for a few years which became the foundation of the rest of her career and led her to return to Vanderbilt to earn her PhD and become a researcher. Akard tells VanderbiltHustler.com:
“I originally went to nursing school to work children with life-threatening illnesses. I loved seeing 20-30 patients a day (in primary care), but I wanted to do something where I could have that creativity to think of a question, develop a study to answer it, and then disseminate that knowledge to have a greater impact.”
Akard is currently in her third year of a four-year study researching how to improve coping and adjustment for children with life-threatening illnesses. Her study uses web-based intervention that requires participants to create an electronic scrapbook of their lives. Her job gives her the perfect balance of being able to help children and families going through serious illnesses, while also mentoring and guiding students. Akard encourages students interested in healthcare to “shoot high” when reaching for their goals.
To learn more about Akard and her career as a nursing researcher studying ways to improve life-threatening illnesses for children, visit here.
With a nationwide nursing shortage bringing on high demand, most nursing students find that they have a job right out of college, but usually not one that takes them halfway around world. That’s why our Nurse of the Week is Julia Brown, a senior nursing student at Fairfield University who was accepted into the Peace Corps for a nursing position stationed in Cameroon Africa following her graduation at the end of this semester.
Fairfield University has a core value of being men and women for others. Brown will be upholding that value as she moves to Cameroon for two years to serve in the health sector of the Peace Corps working in HIV/AIDS education and prevention, malaria prevention, and maternal and child healthcare. Discussing her upcoming job, Brown tells [email protected] that volunteering for the Peace Corps has always been a goal for her, even before she wanted to be a nurse:
“Ever since I was in middle school I’ve wanted to do the Peace Corps. The Peace Corps isn’t about giving money and handouts to those in need, but rather it’s about giving them education and promotion so that they can sustain positive changes. To me that’s making the biggest impact possible.”
With the skills she gained through classroom and clinical practice during her four years in the Marion Peckham Egan School of Nursing and Health Studies, Brown feels prepared to make a smooth transition into her new role. To learn more about her upcoming role with the Peace Corps, visit here.
Our Nurse of the Week is Ann Hilliard Ussery from Halifax Health Hospital in Daytona Beach who was assisted by Mike Chitwood, a Florida Deputy from the Volusia County Sheriff’s Department, in delivering a baby in a hospital parking lot. The pair were in the right place at the right time when the father-to-be came running into the hospital lobby and Ussery and Chitwood were the only ones available to help.
Chitwood was off duty at the time, visiting a friend at the hospital, but he jumped into action immediately when his help was needed. As he and the nurse approached the car where the woman was giving birth, they both reported that they could see the baby was already crowning. Too late to get the expecting mother safely into the hospital, Chitwood helped the mom get comfortable then calmed their 2-year-old toddler while nurse Ann Hilliard Ussery helped deliver the baby.
Chitwood joked to InsideEdition.com that, “It was the safest birth in Volusia County today.” With a sheriff and nurse standing nearby, the mother-to-be was able to safely deliver her newborn in the parking lot before they were moved to a more comfortable location inside the hospital.
Our Nurse of the Week is Sara Huffaker, a senior nursing student at Pittsburg State University (PSU), who has been donating her hair to help make wigs for cancer patients for over a decade. Inspired by her own hair donations, Huffaker decided to organize a donation drive on PSU’s campus. Discussing her decision to organize the donation drive, Huffaker told Pittsburg’s MorningSun.net:
“I’ve been doing this since I was in fourth grade. I was donating last year and thought ‘why isn’t everyone doing this?’ So I decided to get to work.”
The goal of her event was to receive eight donations – enough to make one wig. They already had eight people lined up by the time the donation drive was opening, and had over 64 donations by the end of the day, enough for eight wigs. After far exceeding Huffaker’s expectations, she decided that the hair drive will be a yearly event in the future, occurring on the first Saturday in February.
Huffaker is the Breakthrough to Nursing Program leader for PSU’s chapter of the Kansas Association of Nursing Students. Using her position there, she partnered with Wild Side Salon to organize the drive and ended up with hairdressers from multiple salons volunteering to donate their time. Donations were made through Pantene Beautiful Lengths in partnership with the American Cancer Society.
You can read the original story on Huffaker’s hair donation drive here.
Kristen Noles, a nurse manager at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Hospital, was breastfeeding her youngest child five years ago when she found a hardened area in her breast. After being diagnosed with breast cancer, Noles embarked on a journey of aggressive cancer treatment. Now 40, and the mom of three kids aged 7, 11, and 15, Noles is using her personal battle with cancer to help other patients.
Noles’ mother, Madeline Harris, is an oncology nurse and the director of Birmingham’s Women’s Breast Health Fund which provides supportive care services for women with breast cancer. Her experience as an oncology nurse helped Noles immensely through her treatments, bringing the pair closer and making them determined to work together to make cancer patients’ lives fulfilling.
With no breast cancer risk factors or family history of the disease, Noles’ diagnosis was shocking to her, but she was determined to fight her cancer and embrace every moment of her life going forward. Despite her aggressive treatment approach, it was important for Noles to keep working. She would return to work as quickly as possible following her chemotherapy treatments and she finished her graduate studies during treatment despite a number of surgical and chemo complications.
Wanting to make her journey with battling cancer about other patients who she could positively impact, Harris told Parade.com, “We started thinking, How can we use this to further our understanding of what it’s like to be the family member of a patient.” Noles recalls how she would think of her patients on her toughest days, especially after she received some unsupportive reactions from coworkers and fellow healthcare providers after her hair fell out.
Now five years after her diagnosis, Noles hopes to share her experiences with other patients and use her experiences, both good and bad, in her approach to teaching as an adjunct faculty member at the UAB School of Nursing. In 2013, she became a co-founder of the Courage Network, a breast cancer survivor group made up of UAB staff who provide support to fellow employees facing their own cancer journeys. She wants all UAB employees to know they have a support system during hardships. Noles’ cancer experience also inspired her mother who has since awarded more than $1.3 million to area nonprofits to provide services for breast cancer survivors and their loved ones in her position as director of the Women’s Breast Health Fund.
We want to thank our Nurse of the Week, Kristen Noles, and her mother Madeline Harris, for their inspiring works as nurses to positively influence other healthcare providers and cancer patients in their own community and beyond.
There are a lot of actresses and actors who have played nurses or a nursing assistant at one point in their careers. Then there are the celebrities who have actually been one.
We found a number of celebrities who either were nurses or had been studying to be one. Although we’re glad they pursued their other careers—as the entertainment world would be different without them—it’s fun to think that they could have been working side-by-side nurses in health care facilities today.
Here are just some of the ones we found:
- Tina Turner
Before she became a singer (and an amazing one at that!), Tina Turner was planning to become a nurse and even worked as a nurse’s aide in a local hospital. Can you imagine someone else singing her version of Proud Mary while shaking that spangled dress? No, neither can we.
- Bonnie Hunt
While she’s known as an actress, producer, director, and voiceover artist, Bonnie Hunt began her career path as a nurse. Although she really wanted to act, her father told her that she should become a nurse. Having been a candy striper in high school, Hunt listened to him. After graduating from nursing school, she worked for five years at Northwestern University Hospital and spent her nights performing at Second City improv troupe. Finally, she moved to Los Angeles and landed her first role as a waitress in the Barry Levinson movie Rain Man, starring Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise. Since then, she’s starred in movies such as Cheaper by the Dozen, had her own TV show, and entered the voiceover realm. She’ll once again provide the voice for Dolly in the next Toy Story movie, Toy Story 4. In the past, she voiced characters in A Bug’s Life and Monsters, Inc, among many others.
- Adrian Holmes
You may know Adrian Holmes as Lt. Frank Pike in the TV series Arrow, as Nick Barron in the series 19-2, or in many other roles he’s played on TV or in movies. But did you know that he started out as a nurse?
Nursing was a big part of his life while growing up because his mom worked as a nurse, and his parents ran a nursing home. Although acting called to him, Holmes earned his RN. Funny thing is that just after he graduated from nursing school, his acting career began to take off.
- Naomi Judd
Before she began performing with her daughter Wynonna to become one of country music’s biggest duos, Naomi Judd worked as a nurse. When Wynonna and Judd’s other daughter, actress and activist Ashley were growing up, Naomi supported their family by working as a nurse in the ICU.
While she stopped performing with her daughter more than five years ago, Judd still gives talks about hepatitis C, and she published her memoir River of Time, in which she discusses her battle with depression.