By Jill Jackson
Teaching professor Dr. Sheri P. Palmer (AS ’83, BS ’85) didn’t always want to be a nurse. “I grew up wanting to be an architect,” she says. It wasn’t until after her first year attending Brigham Young University that Palmer thought about nursing. “I had to go to the emergency room with one of my brothers who had an accident, and I thought, ‘This is where I need to be.’”
The rest is history. Palmer received her bachelor’s degree in nursing from BYU, her master’s from Idaho State, and her doctorate from the University of Utah. She joined the BYU College of Nursing faculty in 1995. In her time at BYU, not only has she taught medical-surgical nursing and capstone classes, but she has worked to expand the college’s international reach.
Palmer’s love for global nursing started in Paraguay. “After I graduated with my RN from BYU, I went on a health and welfare mission to Paraguay, and I just fell in love with the people there. So when I came back and started my other schooling, I always wanted to work in international health and nursing.”
In 2018, after receiving the US Fulbright Scholar Award, Palmer was able to return to serve the people of Paraguay with a team of students and faculty members for the first leg of a multi-segment project. Working with the University of Paraguay and a non-government organization, Palmer began studying the issue of teenage pregnancy in the region.
“The first year, we studied the perceived factors contributing to teenage pregnancy to get a foundation and basis,” she says. “And that led to one of the biggest interventions which was to teach maturation and sex education because … there was a need among the adolescents to learn the basics.”
Palmer’s next trip in 2019 was spent applying the solutions they found in her research. With modules Palmer and her students had prepared, the group was able to teach 700 kids in 10 days. “It was fantastic,” she says.
But for Palmer, it’s not about the statistics—it’s about the individuals. “The first year when we were doing sex education, a lot of the emphasis, of course, is not to get pregnant, contraception, and stuff like that. I was in the back of the room watching a couple of students teach it, and also in the back of the room was a teenage girl, and she was kind of standing off to herself and very timid. I approached her, and immediately I could see she was pregnant, pretty far along. I said, ‘Are you okay? Are you okay with what we’re teaching?’ And she said, ‘Yes, but it’s too late for me.’ And that just broke my heart.” Palmer jumped into action, teaching this young woman the importance of seeking continued education after giving birth. “It’s not just preventing pregnancy, but it’s also about helping the girls that already are.”
In fact, for Palmer, it has always been about the people. “Sometimes our students get so caught up in skills like starting a certain amount of IVs, but I try to emphasize that we are treating God’s children, and there’s a whole bunch of them in the world, and they need us; they need nurses, and they need us to care for them and to reach out and help to lift them. We’re taking care of God’s children—we’re not just doing skills on patients.”
Palmer truly emulates the college’s invitation to learn the Healer’s art. “I believe this is a chosen profession and that we are the hands of our Savior,” she says.