By Jonathan Schroeder
Debbie Edmunds, then a mission nurse, was just getting ready for bed when the call came. It must have been the third or fourth call she received that night, yet she still reached for the phone with the same loving eagerness she always did.
When she answered, Edmunds could hear a young sister missionary holding back tears on the other end of the line. The stress and strains of the mission had taken their toll on the young 19-year-old, who was struggling to adjust to her new life as a missionary in Fiji. As the conversation unfolded, Edmunds listened quietly and offered words of support and encouragement. She could tell that what this young missionary really needed at that moment was someone to help her feel loved.
Missionaries that served in Fiji and BYU nursing students alike will tell you that such love and care are not uncommon with Debbie Edmunds. Her compassionate personality and instruction during her time at the College of Nursing have helped hundreds of students along the pathway to nursing. Now after eight years of teaching, Edmunds will retire to serve another mission and spend more time with her 18 grandchildren.
A Mother’s Touch: from Stay-at-Home Mom to Hospital Nurse
Many students may be surprised to learn that Edmunds didn’t actually plan on becoming a nurse until almost 20 years after she graduated high school. Growing up, her dream was to become a teacher. Those dreams got put on hold after she met Gary Edmunds in a high school production of the musical “The Fantastics”. The sweethearts were married shortly after their high school graduation in 1974.
Edmunds spent the next two decades raising the couple’s seven children, while her husband worked in the construction industry. Her experiences with raising children sparked an interest in nursing, especially after she delivered a baby who was stillborn.
“I really wanted to help other women who were in that same situation,” Edmunds recalls. “I knew just how important it was, as a nurse, to be sensitive to their needs.”
In 1994, Edmunds returned to school and began working on her associate degree in registered nursing at Salt Lake Community College. At the time, her children ranged in ages from four to twenty-years-old. Occasionally, she had to ask advice from her oldest daughter, who was also working on her college degree. Edmunds would later go on to earn a bachelor’s degree from BYU and a master’s degree in nursing education from the University of Utah.
After earning her associate degree, Edmunds worked in a labor and delivery unit at Alta View Hospital. It was during her time there that Edmunds enjoyed some of her most cherished experiences, as a nurse.
“My most memorable moments as a nurse are when I was involved in the sacred processes of childbirth,” Edmunds says. “Whether everything went perfectly or whether there was a complication, I was generally one-on-one with the patient. It’s an experience and a reward that’s hard to explain, but the thank you notes that I received from those patients afterwards were always so heartfelt. They were always so grateful that I was there, listening to them and providing the support they desperately needed.”
The Road to BYU Nursing
After two years at Alta View, Edmunds began working in an OB/GYN clinic at South Valley Women’s Health Care, as well as a childbirth educator at Intermountain Health Care. During this time her passion for teaching began to resurface. For two years, she served as a clinical instructor at Utah Valley University and the University of Utah. Then in 2007, she was approached with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity; organizing a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) program for the Mountainland Applied Technology College.
“Organizing the LPN program was a big task, because I had to start everything from scratch,” Edmunds explains. “The college had not had an LPN program, so I had to develop a curriculum, get the program accredited, hire the faculty and develop the criteria for accepting students (among other things).”
After founding the LPN program, Edmunds went on to serve as its director for four straight years. During that time, she met associate professor Dr. Mary Williams, who approached her about teaching at BYU.
“It really was not on my radar to teach at BYU,” Edmunds admits. “It was one of those situations where the Lord had bigger dreams for me than I had for myself.”
Edmunds began teaching as a clinical instructor for BYU in 2010, and became a full-time faculty member in 2012.
Paving New Pathways
During her time at BYU, Edmunds has left an indelible impression on not only the BYU College of Nursing, but also on her students.
“One of my favorite things about teaching is getting to teach the Nursing 180 [Preview to Nursing] class,” Edmunds says. “I love being there for those new students and getting to know them on a one-on-one basis, as I help them discover whether nursing is the right path for them.”
In July 2016, Edmunds took a twelve-month leave of absence to serve a mission with her husband in Suva, Fiji. While there, Edmunds served as the mission nurse specialist providing support and medical advice for 135 missionaries. She also became intimately familiar with the Fijian healthcare system, making dozens of connections with nurses and hospital directors. These connections provided the basic framework for BYU’s global health practicum in Fiji. This summer, Edmunds will return to her mission –this time with the first group of BYU Nursing students to perform clinicals in that country.
But Edmunds says she isn’t ready to stop there. She and her husband are already waiting on their second mission call, this time, (hopefully) to a mission in the Caribbean.
“It’s been such a blessing to me to know that I’ve been an instrument it the Lord’s hands to help people fulfill their dreams,” Edmunds says of her BYU experience. “Being here at BYU has been wonderful. It’s a wonderful environment with wonderful faculty and wonderful students. It’s something that I will dearly miss.”
When asked what advice she had for future nursing students and faculty members, Edmunds said, “I would suggest living your values. Whatever it is that brings you that joy and meaning, make sure you’re living your life in a way that you can do that. Follow your dreams and do what makes you happy.”