By Alex Coleman
The College of Nursing at Brigham Young University is home to some incredible future nurses who strive to be kind and capable. However, each semester a student is nominated for the DAISY Award for Extraordinary Nursing Students who is exemplary in their compassion, thoughtfulness, and dedication to serving patients and their families. This semester, that student is Niccole Dunford.
Niccole’s path to nursing began over a decade ago when she registered for nursing school as a newly married undergrad. The day she bought her books for the first semester of classes, she found out that she was pregnant with her first child. She knew it was time for her to be a Mom first, but she never forgot her dream of becoming a nurse. It wasn’t until her first child graduated from high school that she decided she was ready to go back to school. “She’s a mom, she’s busy, she obviously has a lot going on, but she always finds time to show love for everybody in the nursing program,” comments a fellow nursing student.
Niccole often goes out of her way to care for her fellow nursing students. Natalie, a member of her cohort, says that “Niccole genuinely cares about everybody. She is so good at making people feel included and giving positive feedback. I look up to her so much.” Another student, Lauren, comments with similar admiration, “Niccole is a fierce advocate. I remember in clinicals there were times when I just felt down on myself. I felt like I couldn’t do it, I wasn’t smart enough, I wasn’t good enough, and every time Niccole is there to pick you back up. She knows exactly what kind of nurses we can be, and is there for us at all times.”
“I have been sitting next to Niccole for the past three years of nursing school,” another student comments about Niccole’s ability to help other people feel loved and supported. “She’s just an amazing person. She’s very thoughtful. I see how she interacts with the rest of the cohort, and she’s always asking about them how they’re doing and about their personal lives. She always offers her help to anyone.” The student went on to talk about how just the other day, Niccole sent her a series of job listings she’d found because she knew that the student wanted to work in the ICU after graduation. Niccole had gone out of her way to help another student achieve their dreams and feel supported in their efforts to succeed.
Another comment about Niccole’s compassion that came up several times in interviews about her was that if Niccole knows you, Niccole has tacos for you. “Whenever you had a bad clinical day, it’s tacos. Whenever you’re sad, it’s tacos. Your boyfriend broke up with you? Tacos. She’s there at all times to make sure to make sure you’re well fed. She’s a big proponent of taking care of yourself physically first, and then taking care of the psycho-social.” For herself, Niccole comments, “I’ve taken a lot of people out for tacos! I know how hard it is at that age. I have kids that age! When you’re so stressed and worried and you have so much pressure to achieve so much, sometimes you forget to take care of yourself. Taking kids out to eat is one way I knew I could help them out.” She laughs and continues, “I’m very codependent in my taco needs, so it’s even helped me out a little bit.”
Niccole is not only compassionate, she is also very humble. “I am so very grateful for my husband, Chris. He has supported my dream of being a nurse in every way possible. I think it is vital for nursing students to find a dependable support system. In my case, it was my amazing husband. His support defined my success. We all need someone to encourage our dreams and be a soft place to listen to our setbacks. I wanted to be that person for students who felt alone.” She goes on to say, “While it never occurred to me that I might be nominated, I am so grateful to be thought of as someone who shows a notable level of compassion. I have truly felt compassion from so many fellow students, professors, and nurses throughout the program.” Niccole feels very blessed to have been placed in a cohort that she describes as “bright, compassionate, and kind,” full of people that “persevere through really hard things and show courage and integrity—it doesn’t surprise me that someone would support me in something like this from our really great family of about sixty-five.”
Niccole has already had incredible experiences in nursing school that have helped redefine what compassionate nursing means for her. During her fourth-semester clinical experience at Primary Children’s Hospital, she was placed in rotation through the immunocompromised unit, which cares for children who have been diagnosed with cancer. She was in the room with her preceptor and the doctor as they told a set of parents that their child had been diagnosed with a severe form of cancer. After the doctor and nurse left, Niccole was asked to stay to monitor the patient during the first fifteen minutes of a blood transfusion. She describes her experience, “I witnessed the initial tender moments between the parents and their son after being told the prognosis meant a hard road ahead. The mother turned to me and asked if there was anything she could have done as a mother to avoid the diagnosis. I was able to hold her hand and tell her that she was a loving mother and there was nothing she could have done to prevent this form of cancer. We wept together. Her husband told me that I was now a part of their story. I could feel the love our Savior has for that family. Nursing is exhausting and emotional, but I know that as we carry the Savior’s love for His children with us we will be empowered with His strength. It will be a memory I carry with me throughout my nursing career.”
This event helped define what the Healer’s art is for Niccole. “The Savior sought out those who were the outliers, those who needed compassion and kindness. In their darkest times, he was there with them,” Niccole stresses. “The Healer’s art, to me, means that I stay close to my Savior. It means that I am a [conduit] for him to shine a light on people when they need that light, when they feel darkness and loss of hope. The science behind nursing has always been so important to me, but in addition to that, being able to impact someone’s life in a way that they will feel His light and love through me is the best thing ever.”
Niccole Dunford is indeed a light to all those she comes in contact with. She inspires those who are given the great opportunity to get to know her to be better, more confident versions of themselves because she sincerely believes in their ability to be so. We are so grateful to have nurses like Niccole in our program to inspire and lift their fellow students to be able to serve those they will help in a higher and more compassionate way. We congratulate her on receiving the DAISY Award for Extraordinary Nursing Students.