By Alex Coleman
The College of Nursing at Brigham Young University has produced nurses that strive for excellence and compassion. Jeannie Brewer (BA ’82) is one of our alumni that has truly striven to exemplify those qualities to her utmost ability, as is evident by her life dedicated to learning the Healer’s art.
Following her graduation from BYU, Jeannie went to work at Intermountain Healthcare, where for the next 30 years she was able to develop an empathy that can only come with experience and consistent striving. She knew early on that she loved the educating aspect of healthcare, so throughout her years at Intermountain she worked in several nurse educator positions as well as doing shifts as a maternal-newborn staff nurse and several other units. It was rigorous work, and she spent some days working far into overtime while still finding time to be a mother to her children.
Then, with a company-wide restructuring, and without any plans or job prospects, Jeannie decided it was time to move on. Soon after, doors began opening which “I never would have had time for before,” she says. First, a colleague recommended her to an open position on the BYU Nursing faculty. She now finds great fulfillment in coaching third semester students in their first clinical experiences in a hospital and students doing clinicals in their last semester in the nursing program. “It’s terrifying being in the hospital for the first time,” she recalls, “and now I’ve worked hard for many years to be able to now take all my experiences and teach new nurses so that I can walk them through the fear of that process.” Jeannie loves the time she has now to reflect on her years of nursing and all that it taught her and apply it to curriculum and lessons she can pass onto her students.
One of the biggest skills she’s developed over her 30 years of nursing is the ability to truly feel empathy for others. It is this skill she most yearns to pass on and prepare students to develop within themselves. One of her favorite quotes to use in teaching is by Sister Marjorie Hinckley, who said, “There isn’t a person you wouldn’t love if you could read their story.” “The ability to exercise compassion and empathy is the most important thing you learn as a nurse that you will use for the rest of your life,” Jeannie continues, “You do not ever go into nursing with the amount of empathy the job will require of you. You develop it across your whole life.”
Jeannie is a firm believer that the main task a nurse is given is to truly hear a patient’s story. This includes their physical story, their clinical story, and their entire life story. This story becomes more developed the longer she works with a patient, and as she learns to piece her patient’s story together, she is able to more holistically put together a nursing care plan. “When you go in to meet a patient and you get to hear their whole story, hear their background, all your preconceived judgments and notions of who they are changes. You get to really know the people you care for, and that allows you to love them.” The ability Jeannie has developed as a nurse to put herself in other people’s shoes has allowed her to be a better friend, mother, sister, in-law, and nurse through all aspects of her life.
For example, since she stopped working full-time, Jeannie and her husband have found the time to serve an inner-city mission. While the application process to becoming an inner-city missionary is the same as other missions you can serve with a spouse, when you get assigned, you don’t leave your home. Rather, your records get transferred to wards in your area with large at-risk populations, including immigrants or refugees adjusting to a new country and culture and families or individuals who could benefit from the love, support, and wise counsel of a senior couple eager to help them improve their lives. “We are often the liaison between those who need help and the Bishop, who really wants to be of service and simply needs help addressing the needs of all those who struggle within his ward boundaries,” she explains. As missionaries, they work with very vulnerable populations. These people have often had extremely difficult lives. They’ve sometimes been in and out of homeless shelters, and their lives can get turned upside down in a matter of months. “We help them spiritually, yes, but more so we help them financially, we help them find stability, and most importantly, we help them have hope in their lives that things will get better,” Jeannie explains.
In this mission, Jeannie’s ability to empathize that she has developed as a nurse has been crucial in her role of friend and mentor to the people with whom she and her husband work. She helps people write their resumes and prep for job interviews. Just recently, she helped a woman learn how to buy a plane ticket, pack to be able to board a plane, and figure out how to get to the terminal so she could go visit her child. In addition, her nursing experience enables the bishops to be able to assign them to help families with healthcare issues. She has helped individuals change dressings, interpret information from doctors, and make sense of diagnoses. “Another element of nursing that I utilize every single day as an inner-city missionary is critical-thinking and problem solving. I have been able to better support and teach the individuals we serve because of the problem-solving skills I have developed in nursing,” she says. “It has been rewarding to help our families with complex problems and situations see the benefits of good decision making and planning for the future.”
Another way in which Jeannie and other nurses have been able to serve is through a non-profit called Mothers Without Borders. Their work is focused in Zambia, Africa, where they “partner with and support local organizations, empower women, and care for the most vulnerable children.” They also “provide food, housing, and education for children while also offering adult caregivers literacy and business skills training.” Since she’s quit her full-time job, this is one of the most rewarding and life-changing experiences in which Jeannie has been able to participate. “It pulls your heart in,” she says, “You’re not there to change Zambia, you’re there for them to change you, to teach you how to love, how to keep things simple, how to have hope, how to be present, how to be calm.” After that experience, Jeannie incorporates those lessons that the Zambian people taught her into the training that each of her students receives.
Jeannie is one of our BYU Nursing alumni that has truly exemplified what it means to learn the Healer’s art. She has used the lessons she began learning as a young nursing student to bless the lives of those she comes in contact with throughout her life, including empathy, problem-solving, critical thinking, leadership, and compassion. We are truly blessed to have her as a clinical nursing faculty for our college.