May 15, 1998

Nursing School graduates stand by their own

Nursing School graduates stand by their own

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Nursing School graduate Randy Presley received congratulations from Dean Colleen Conway-Welch, Ph.D. (Photo by Donna Jones Bailey)

When Anne Williford received her nursing degree last Friday from the Vanderbilt University School of Nursing, she did so with the encouragement and support of her fellow classmates and faculty members ­ a feeling she¹s become quite familiar with.

A close working relationship between nursing students and faculty members is part of what makes the school unique. Last October, Williford experienced the relationship first-hand.

During her first week of a family nurse practitioner preceptorship at Ft. Campbell, Williford rushed home after 8 p.m. to tuck her children into bed. As she pulled into her driveway, she found her house completely dark and her husband and landlord standing in the yard. As her husband put his arms around her, she learned her house had been destroyed by fire.

The family¹s clothes dryer motor had malfunctioned when it was left running while they weren¹t home and they lost nearly everything.

"They were able to save our pictures and computers and a few little things, and we thought everything else was destroyed," she said. "The next day, we were so excited about every little thing we found," she said.

What happened afterward amazed Williford.

"My entire graduating class, the faculty, and even people I didn¹t even know got involved and asked people for donations. We were absolutely overwhelmed by the amount of clothes, books and money people donated. It was really overwhelming."

Her husband is a blues musician, and a benefit for the family was held downtown.

"We had no insurance and would have been devastated financially if it weren¹t for what these people did for us," she said. "It has taught me so much about human nature and how giving people can be. We saw a lot of goodness in people."

For their new home, the Willifords purchased a new washer and dryer, but everything else ­ from their furniture to her children¹s toys ­ is what was given to them by the nursing school, musicians and by Eakin School, her oldest daughter¹s school.

Williford began a full-time job last week as a family nurse practitioner for a Nashville physician who specializes in family practice. She had worked for the physician as a student.

"Our experience really bonded us to this community," she said.

Williford was joined by fellow classmates at last Friday¹s commencement. After the university-wide ceremony on Alumni Lawn, a separate ceremony was held at the Stadium Club where the graduates received their M.S.N diplomas and academic hoods from Colleen Conway-Welch, Ph.D., dean of the School of Nursing. Many of the 235 graduates attended ceremonies last August.

Of this group, 98 have chosen the family nurse practitioner tract; 37, acute care adult nurse practitioner; 24, women¹s health nurse practitioner; 22, gerontological nurse practitioner; 13, psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner; 10, parent, child and adolescent nursing; 9, nurse midwifery; 8, health systems management; 7, neonatal nursing; 5, occupational health/adult nurse practitioner; and 2, nursing administration.

Receiving the Founder¹s Medal for superior academic achievement was Carolyn Burke Martindale of Nashville.

Cindy Waller received her degree in the nursing administration tract after spending the past two and one-half years balancing school and motherhood.

Waller chose the part-time route because she was holding a full-time nursing job and spending time with her daughter, Katie, who was two years old when she began in the fall of 1995. A son, Tripp, was born during nursing school in August 1996. She felt ill during the beginning of her pregnancy, and was considered high-risk during the later stages.

Having the support of her husband, Bogue, who owns a computer programming business, was a tremendous help, she said.

"I could not have done this without him. He believes in the value of education," she said.

Waller found that she balanced being the mother of a newborn and a toddler with some careful planning and little sleep.

"I had to be very organized and very disciplined. I was working full-time, taking classes in the afternoon after I got off work, and studying Monday through Thursday nights, usually after Katie went to bed. I found that I looked forward to that time. It was quiet and the time was mine. I just made a pot of coffee and did it. I didn¹t get a lot of sleep for two years.

"I was determined that my child would not know that her mommy was in school. I did not want to say ŒI¹m sorry I can¹t play with you. I have to study,¹ so I studied after I got her to bed at 9 or 10. Some nights I would get done at 1 or 2 a.m. Others, I got done about 5 a.m. I just did what I had to do to get it done."

During the few times she was forced to study while Katie was awake, the child had her own desk with crayons and paper, so the two could work side by side.

The worst period was during the beginning of her pregnancy.

"It was dreadful, but luckily I¹m a person who has a lot of energy and I do much better if I have a goal. A goal energizes me much more than doing something for sake of doing it. It all worked out in the end."

Waller said she believes the School of Nursing came into her life at the right time. "The faculty were good role models and were very supportive. From the time I started, I felt they were personally interested. If I had a question and they couldn¹t reach me at home during the day, they would call me at night. It was a very positive experience for me, personally and professionally.

The program also allowed her to obtain a good job. She is now the administrative director of critical care at Centennial Hospital in Nashville.

"It¹s the job I always wanted."