Our Stories: 2000's


Whitney Simmons, Class of 2003

In order to establish good bedside manner, nursing students first have to practice with mannequins in the skills lab.  I’m easily tickled and these patients were pretty funny with their expressionless faces and half-way secured wigs.  You could just barely keep from giggling as you said, “Ms. Smith….I’m going to clean your wound or….Ms. Smith I’m going to give you these medications” and all they did back was just stare.….”

As you might imagine these mannequins were certainly not as intimidating as a real patient might be in the next few weeks as we graduated to humans.  Even so, I just didn’t have my sea legs about me yet so the idea of these mannequins with imaginary pressure ulcers was enough to make me queasy. 

We were discussing gastronomy tubes and the very thought of a hole in the stomach was hard to handle.  I started to get gray…grayer in color than even Ms. Smith (the mannequin) and my knees began to get weak as my ears were ringing.  My wonderful instructor, Gretchen, took notice of my rapidly nauseating situation as she advised me to sit on the “patient’s” bed.  Humiliation was all I could focus on at that moment. 

While this is a silly example of a timid nursing student’s experience, it was a huge step to cross in order to grasp hold of a new confidence.  Having instructors believe in you and encourage you to challenge yourself makes all the difference.  I feel so much admiration for the school looking back on situations such as this and realizing professionally how much I’ve been able to do because I had excellent clinical training that allowed me to develop into a confident health care provider and I cannot adequately express my gratitude for this education. 

Melissa A. Laughrey, Capt, USAF, NC, Adult Acute Care Nurse Practitioner, Class of 2003

I work at a small base that has a primary care clinic with three family practice physicians, three flight medicine physicians and one pediatrician. I primarily work as an registered nurse for the family practice/peds doctors.

The military health care structure is a bit different, so I do a little bit of everything including taking up to 20 patient calls a day, addressing medication refills, renewing referrals for patients to be seen by specialists, providing education, and ensuring proper care is available for patients when we have no appointments available. In the Air Force, we have a big population health push so I review all mammograms and pap smears that are completed and ensure the patients receive their results as well as schedule any follow up care needed.

I now help lead an OB orientation class every other month for our active duty and dependent spouses. I supervise/manage some of the enlisted staff (similar to nurses aids) as well as several of the doctors. Unfortunately, I am not currently in a nurse practitioner slot so I can't see patients full time as a provider.

I am the only female provider in family practice so I do my share of pap smears if someone requests a female provider or I see patients if one of the doctors is gone.

Heather Hall Newman, VUSN Public Relations Officer, Class of 2003

When I came to the Vanderbilt University School of Nursing in 2003, as Public Relations Officer, they had not had someone assigned to cover news and events out of the school before.

I quickly realized there were so many interesting stories that had gone untold.

One memory of the time I spent working at VUSN that stands out in my mind was around Christmas in 2004. There was a terrible flu outbreak in middle Tennessee, children were being hit especially hard with the particular flu strain that year, and everyone was in a mad rush to get a flu shot. The demand was so great in Nashville that the Metro Health Dept. ran out of vaccine, most private practice providers ran out, and due to an error with the company making the vaccine, supplies were low nationwide.

It made for the perfect storm, and a public health emergency for the Nashville area. Leave it to the School of Nursing to find a way to make something happen, though.

Vine Hill Community Clinic had purchased plenty of flu vaccine, in addition to FluMist, at the time still very new, for children. We began publicizing special hours for vaccine at Vine Hill, and lines formed around the building for days. People came from points far and wide to be vaccinated at Vine Hill. Even VUMC began referring patients to Vine Hill, and gave what supplies they had left to the Clinic to distribute to the masses.

It was right before Christmas, and extra help had to be called in. News media camped outside to capture the unfolding events and the  nurses response to the public health emergency.

Dean Conway-Welch even rolled up her sleeves and administered flu shots. It was a true example of the spirit I witnessed each day I worked at VUSN, and I will always remember seeing everyone fly into action and work such long hours to meet the needs of the community.

Another fond memory was during the renovations of Godchaux Hall. During that time, they paired many of us up to share offices. I drew the lucky end of the straw and was housed with Carol Etherington. She made me laugh every day. She had amazing stories of her travels to third-world countries to help victims of disasters. She tortured me with her smelly sardine lunches with crackers. And she listened, shared, and became a friend, not just an officemate. I'll always remember that special year we spent as roomies, and all the kind people on the 4th floor!  


Terri (McLeroy) Hartman, Class of 2004

I started on my MSN with the class of 2003. I ended up having to go part time instead of full time because of personal issues. During the summer semester of 2003 my husband died after a five week unexpected illness. My classmates were wonderful. I had been encouraged by close friends to take the semester off but instead I wanted to go on. It ended up more emotionally difficult than I thought it would be. My classmates carried me through a difficult project. They were so thoughtful and supportive. I would never had made it through that semester without them. They were my support system and I am still thankful for everything they did for me.

Some of my favorite things were just the discussions my classmates and I had about our jobs and families. These discussions brought us together as friends.

My MSN has helped me to advance to not one but two dream jobs at Vanderbilt, Director of Accreditation and Standards and Manager of the Privacy Office.


Kathy Rivers, 2007 - VUSN Information Officer

I will never forget the day that I had the honor of informing Dean Colleen Conway-Welch about how the School catapulted several spots to reach the Top 20 U.S. News & World Reports' 2007 Ranking. Colleen was in a one-on-one meeting with our Director of Student Affairs Sarah Ramsey. The door was closed, and they were hard at work. I told Colleen's wonderful assistant, Debbie Hill, that I had important news and needed to interrupt the meeting. I knocked on the conference room door, excused the interruption and excitedly told Colleen and Sarah the great news. I probably rattled it off so fast that Colleen asked me to repeat it again – slowly – so that she was sure she heard me correctly.

Colleen jumped out of her chair and gave me a tight hug. Then she and Sarah hugged followed by Sarah and I hugging. It was a wonderful, memorable experience, and I feel truly grateful that I was there to deliver this great news – reflecting the hard work of all the faculty and staff. After that, there were parties, banners and mentions at various presentations, but the first time telling Colleen was very special.

Sara Brumbeloe, MSN, Class of 2007

I think one of the funniest episodes during my year at Vanderbilt occured at the beginning of the second semester. Leslie was handing out clinical assignments for those of us in the Nashville area. Leslie started to hand me my assignment and she looked at me and said, "Huh, I think that is in Amish country." I thought she was joking until the my first day of clinical, when sure enough, I passed two different Amish men driving buggies. I just remember thinking, "I guess Dean Norman wasn't kinding about us learning about rural health."

Leslie Coleman, Jim Pace, and Julie Rosof-Williams were all educators that made my obtaining of my graduate degree, an easier transition. They helped me grow as both a nurse and a student. I cannot even begin to express the gifts they gave me during my year there.

It is hard to explain how my education has impacted me. You have to understand I come from a low-income background and a very rural upbringing. Just getting my BSN was a dream I never thought would be obtained. I saw too many of my friends loss hope and give up. My father passed away before I could recieve my Master's degree, but I know he was watching me with joy and pride the day I was pinned. I now teach part-time for the School of Nursing and I work with a phsician seeing geriatric patients. I think my education at Vanderbilt allowed me the ability to change for the better and create a new sense of self.