Several current students and graduates of the Central Wyoming College nursing program figure prominently in a photography book that celebrates the nursing profession in America.
The American Nurse is a collection of essays and photographs of 75 nurses from across the country. The coffee table-style book by Carolyn Jones features five nurses who are connected to CWC.
Jones, a photographer and award-winning filmmaker, journeyed across the country to give a voice to the women and men whom she said “play an important role every day in America’s healthcare system.”
She interviewed nurses taking care of combat soldiers, sexual assault victims, and severely underfed children in New York City. In Baltimore, Maryland she interviewed Naomi Cross, a 2008 graduate of CWC’s nursing program, who works at Johns Hopkins Hospital, a prestigious academic medical care center.
Cross, who was also a CWC employee before being accepted into the program, talked about her nursing education at Central. Jones’ interest in CWC was piqued by the college’s proximity to the Wind River Indian Reservation and for the number of Native American students who are enrolled.
Jones’ production company contacted CWC Nursing Professor Stacey Stanek and asked her to arrange three to four interviews.
“It’s pretty exciting,” Stanek said of CWC’s inclusion in the book. “They were flying all over the country interviewing nurses.”
She credits Cross, a perinatal bereavement coordinator, for linking Jones with CWC’s program. “Naomi was a really strong graduate,” Stanek said, noting that it is unusual for a graduate of an associate degree nursing program to climb the ladder of success so quickly at a major hospital.
While in the county, Jones, who’s most widely acclaimed book, Living Proof: Courage in the Face of AIDS, interviewed five nurses, including CWC graduate Katy Hanson, a hospice nurse, and nursing students Olivia Washington, Brad Henderson and Renee Lawson, who was interviewed with her mother, Janice Roman, also an RN.
“Stacey begged me to do it,” said Henderson, who admits he’s not great at public speaking. “She convinced me that it would be therapeutic.”
It was a very emotional experience for Olivia, who decided to pursue nursing while caring for her grandmother, who suffered and later died from breast cancer. “Talking about my grandmother made me tear up,” she said. Olivia at first declined to participate in the project but found it somewhat cathartic in the end.
Renee Lawson is “proud” to be part of the book, especially because her interview included her role model, her mom. “Basically, I want to be my mother,” Lawson said of Janice Roman, a RN who for many years served with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Commissioned Corps.
Renee remembered helping her mother study when Janice was in nursing school. Renee also witnessed her mother give an accident victim along a highway CPR until an ambulance could arrive.
“She was at it for about two hours because we were in the middle of nowhere,” Renee said in the interview. “Her strength is just incredible. I thought there was no way I could ever be like her.”
Ironically, Janice said she felt like a “wimp” compared to her daughter. “It takes a strong personality and a lot of stamina to be a nurse these days. You need the strength to stand up and be an advocate for your patient. Renee is strong inside, and I am proud of her.”
Brad, Olivia and Renee are candidates for graduation from CWC’s program this spring and all have bright prospects for their future. While their future plans are diverse, each intends to further their nursing education to explore specialties.
Brad was living in New Mexico when his father, a Riverton resident, convinced him to enroll in CWC’s program. As required for admission into the nursing program, Brad became a Certified Nursing Assistant, and was hired to provide in-home care for a woman in the late stages of Alzheimer’s. He met his patient’s granddaughter and they later married.
Brad told the interviewer he would never define himself as a “male nurse,” though he recognizes many view men in the profession an anomaly. Six of the 42 members of Brad’s CWC nursing class are men.
Brad has been inspired by his brother, a neonatal nurse in Albuquerque. “I was always interested in medicine,” he said. Pharmacy was a career he initially wanted to pursue but was deterred because it takes up to nine years to get a pharmacy degree. Now he’s considering working on a bachelor’s and possibly a master’s degree to work as a nurse practitioner or as a nurse anesthetist.
Olivia grew up on the Wind River Reservation and was eye witness to the direct nursing care her grandmother received while being treated for breast cancer.
Olivia was forced to grow up very early in a single parent home. By age seven, she started driving so that she could take her cousins to church and her grandmother to doctors’ appointments. At one point, the responsibilities forced her to quit high school, but she was able to double up on her classes and was able graduate with her class.
After finishing the nursing program at CWC, Olivia plans to work in nursing until her son, who is now 14, graduates from high school. She plans to continue her education and is being encouraged by friends to consider medical school.
“We have a really special group of students,” said Stanek. “They are a good representation of who are students are. It’s honest and shows who we are.”
CWC nursing student Olivia Washington. Photo courtesy of The American Nurse.