Carrying the light
Aspiring nurse pursues her dream thanks to scholarship support
When war broke out in Crimea in 1853 between England and Russia over the Ottoman Empire, the people of England became outraged by the neglect of their ill and injured soldiers, who lacked sufficient medical attention and languished in appalling unsanitary conditions. Florence Nightingale, perhaps the most well-known nurse in history, organized a corps of nurses and sailed to Crimea.
She tended to the sick and injured through the wee hours of the night, long after the medical officers had retired for the evening, earning her the nickname “the Lady with the Lamp.” Her compassionate care coupled with her determination to address unsanitary conditions reduced the hospital’s death rate by two-thirds, and upon her return to England, she funded the establishment of the Nightingale Training School for Nurses—the first nursing school.
Fast forward nearly two centuries, and this same dedication, determination, and intelligence that saved countless lives distinguishes the students and graduates of Cizik School of Nursing at UTHealth Houston.
“In high school, I started volunteering at a hospital nearby and really loved the nurses because I felt like they knew the patients on a deeper level,” Ashley Edgar, RN, recounts of her own story. “I love this aspect of being a nurse, having this unmatched relationship with patients and their families.”
Nurses are central to the health care team, shouldering more and more responsibility as the landscape of health care evolves to meet the diverse needs of a growing population. Many times, they are the very last touch of compassion in someone’s life.
“As an ICU nurse, sometimes by the time I’m taking care of patients, they are dying from preventable chronic conditions that they didn’t even know they had, or no one educated them on how to treat it,” explains Ashley. “I want to become a family nurse practitioner so that I can educate these people and help them manage their conditions so they don’t end up like that in the ICU.”
With a looming nursing shortage that will only grow more pressing as 25% of nurses in the workforce reach retirement age within the next 10 years, nursing education at all levels—from undergraduate to advanced practitioners—is integral to ensuring the health of our communities over the coming decades.
"Exacerbating the nursing shortage is a scarcity of nurse faculty, which has been intensified by the pandemic,” says Diane M. Santa Maria, DrPH, RN. “Advanced degrees play an important role in preparing nurse faculty to educate students. Without an investment in growing our faculty, we will perpetuate the nursing shortage and have growing gaps in health care."
Wanting to be a part of developing the health care plan for her patients, Ashley applied to numerous programs, but only one had her heart from the beginning.
“UTHealth Houston was always my first choice,” she says. “I work at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center, which is staffed by UTHealth Houston employees. I have been really impressed with the quality of practitioners, nurses, and doctors from there. And just being here in the heart of the Texas Medical Center, you are where the cutting-edge medicine and technology is.”
Yet many students struggle to afford the expenses of school, leaving aspiring nurses without the means to pursue their dreams and current nurses without the funds to obtain specialized training. Ashley feels fortunate to have received a scholarship from the Crawford and Hattie Jackson Foundation. She is now completing her second year in the Family Nurse Practitioner program.
“The day that I got the letter that I was chosen to receive the scholarship, I was so excited and all my hesitations about school subsided,” remembers Ashley. “Any time I’m getting stressed or down on myself, this scholarship reminds me that there are people behind me, and it gives me that extra boost of encouragement.”
That scholarship helps Ashley persevere through the mental challenges of navigating a full-time job, didactic lectures, and exam weeks.
“If I need to work less to focus on school for that week, I can because my tuition is partially paid for with this scholarship,” says Ashley. “It gives me that extra comfort knowing I can spend more time studying rather than forcing myself to work to pay my tuition.”
As she enters her final 18 months of clinical rotations, the scholarship will take on even greater importance when it allows her to drop down to part-time work.
“I wouldn’t be able to do that without this scholarship,” she says. “It’s comforting knowing that I’m not spreading myself too thin, and I was super worried about that when considering getting an advanced degree.”
Throughout the Many Faces. One Mission. campaign, undergraduate and graduate students at Cizik School of Nursing have received annual scholarship support from organizations including The Albert and Ethel Herzstein Charitable Foundation, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo™, and the John P. McGovern Foundation.
Some donors, like Sheri Henriksen, have used their far-seeing generosity to make estate commitments to endow scholarships, and others, including Jane and the late Robert Cizik, have given generously to various programs that support students. Commitments like this equip our nursing graduates to carry forward a light that helps patients persevere during their darkest days—just like Nightingale did so many decades before.
“When you support nursing education, you’re not just contributing or investing in one nurse,” says Ashley. “That scholarship will go toward all the future patients that I will treat as a nurse practitioner. Scholarships make a difference in the community for years and years to come.”