excellence in nursing


stlmag.com May 2015

Cultivating Care
in sid e th e l if e of a n u rs i n g st u d e n t
BY SUZANNA LOURIE · p hoto g ra phy by matt ma rc in kows k i

Andrea Simms is in her element.
Taking a break between clinical rounds
at St. Louis Children’s Hospital’s inpatient surgical unit, she looks calm and
composed in navy blue scrubs. You’d
never guess that she’s in the final
stretch of one of the most demanding
years of her life.
Last March, she enrolled at the
Goldfarb School of Nursing at BarnesJewish College. “What does my life
consist of?” Andrea says. “Work, studying, class, sleep, work, studying… When
you’re not working, you’re sleeping.”
Earning a nursing degree is a major pursuit for any student, but Andrea is being
modest. She’s on the fast track, working
through Goldfarb’s accelerated program
to earn her Bachelor of Science degree in
just a year, about four times faster than
most undergraduates manage it.
“I expected the worst, so I was prepared,” she says. “When I told people
I was doing the accelerated program,
everybody was, like, ‘You’re crazy!’ I
knew it would be tough, and it’s lived up

to those expectations. But on the whole,
it’s only one year of your life. It’s worth it.”
Medical jargon is nothing new for
Andrea. “I’ve always known medical stuff, I
like science, and I like how the body works,”
says the Normandy native, whose grandmother was a nurse and whose aunts
worked at hospitals. “I didn’t want to be a
doctor, so I just knew I’d be a nurse.”
Yet it’s taken time for the 26-year-old
to decide to pursue a nursing degree.
One of the reasons?
“I’m absolutely terrified of needles!”
she exclaims. “I just didn’t want to stick
When Michael Bleich, the dean
of Goldfarb School of Nursing, hears
about Andrea’s initial fear of needles,
he chuckles.
“Sometimes people have this stereotypical image of a nurse, which can really
diminish how complicated the profession is,” he says. “A lot of students come
in and think they can’t do it because they
hate blood. But you may never see blood.

They get here and understand, ‘There’s
so much more to this.’”
For Andrea, who does sometimes
have to deal with blood and needles,
experience certainly helped. “We
practiced millions of times on mannequins in the simulation labs before
I ever stuck a real person,” she recalls.
“Those things are really, really lifelike.” She’s referring to a key piece of
Goldfarb’s nursing program: clinical
simulation labs, which are equipped
with high-tech medical dummies that
feature auto-reacting pupils and can be
programmed to display realistic convulsions and bleeding.
But Goldfarb’s nursing program goes
well beyond needles and antibiotics;
it focuses on whole-person care. “We
deal with a lot of biophysical, which ties
to the disease, but then we talk about
the psychosocial pieces,” explains
Bleich. “It’s extremely important to look
at family dynamics. There’s also palliative care and end of life, hospice—that’s
not only psychosocial but also spiritual.

May 2015 stlmag.com


excellence in nursing

We’ve actually learned that there is a right
way to die, in terms of how to help people
let go, how to talk to families in various
stages of bereavement, how to provide
support at special times, how to create
memories and bring the family together.”
Dealing with patients and their families
during such emotional times can be challenging, but Andrea knows the importance
of considering their situations. “You have
to step back and say, ‘What circumstances
does this person come from?’” Andrea
says. “‘What are they dealing with?’”
It’s something she’s experienced
On a breezy afternoon in 2006,
two days after her high-school graduation, Andrea received a phone call.
“It was a random lady calling from my
dad’s number,” she recalls. “She said,
‘Your family’s been in a car accident,’
and hung up. I tried to call back, but
nobody answered.”
When Andrea arrived at the hospital,
she saw her brother. “I’ve never seen him
cry, but his eyes were bloodshot red,”
she recalls. “All my family was there: my


stlmag.com May 2015

grandparents, my aunts, my uncles, my
cousins—everyone. Then I saw my mom
in a wheelchair near a room. I walked in,
and my dad was just lying on the table. I
looked around and realized, ‘Oh my God.
He’s not hooked up to anything.’ Then I
just broke down.”
Michael Simms had been driving

back from her brother’s graduation
ceremony when he suffered an acute
heart attack. “We had no idea he had
heart problems,” Andrea says. “He was
just the guy who never went to the doctor and always put things off.”
Michael lost control of the car and
crashed into a pole. “He died in the car,”
Andrea says quietly. “My mom heard
his last breath.”
At the time, Andrea was beginning
classes at Saint Louis University. “I
didn’t really have time to let reality
sink in. Then one day I had the most
realistic dream, where my dad was like,
‘Hey I’m coming to pick you up to go
shopping.’ We always went shopping
and got lunch. When I woke up, I went
to call him, and that’s when reality set
in: I would never talk to him again.”
She called her mom the next day. “I
just said, ‘I need you all to come pack
me up. I’m ready to go.’”
Michael had worked hard to provide
for his family, working the night shift at
a chemical plant and then driving the
kids to school. He only averaged a few
hours of sleep each day. “I understand
having to take care of your family, but
it’s so important to take time to decompress and take care of your body and
your mental health,” says Andrea.
After Michael’s death, Andrea worked
full-time, eventually earning enough to
pay for courses at St. Louis Community
College and later Fontbonne University,

where she earned a degree in psychology.
Then, in 2013, another phone call
altered her life. This time, it was from
Goldfarb School of Nursing. “They said
I received a scholarship,” she recalls. “It
was the best day of my life.”
Losing her father had changed
Andrea’s outlook on healthcare. “My
dad never went to the doctor,” she says.
“He didn’t think it was a priority. Sometimes, if you have bad habits and don’t
go in, by the time you get there, nothing can be done. You never know what
might’ve happened if you’d just gone in
a little earlier.”
For her, the decision to become a
nurse was eminently personal.
just outside Goldfarb Hall’s oversized windows is a medical metropolis.
What better place to browse a medical
textbook or chat with others committed to learning?
“And need I remind you, this is the
penis? And here you have the rectum,
and this is the prostate…”
The professor’s voice rings out from
the front of the room.
Andrea and her friends are sitting
“You can’t treat a person like they’re
in Room 340, a lecture hall with seats something from a textbook,” she adds.
surrounding a central podium. The class
“It requires a little something extra to
is Adult Health, and the professor is become a nurse.”
pointing at a screen with an image of the
Tara Herron, Andrea’s academic
male reproductive system and lecturadvisor, has watched her come to
ing about benign prostatic hyperplasia, embody the sentiment. “At first,
an age-related condition that involves
she was very quiet and shy,” Herron
enlargement of the prostate gland, which says of Andrea. “Then, second term,
makes it difficult for
I started seeing her
a student in the accelerated
men to urinate. It makes
more around campus
bachelor of science program at
life challenging in other
and noticed she was
goldfarb school of nursing at
areas as well.
coming out of her shell.
barnes-jewish college, andrea
simms spends her days in class and
“When we talk about
She’d stop in to see me
interacting with patients. “It’s hard,
psychological, this
and became a lot more
it’s exhausting, and it’s a challenge,”
outgoing as she gained
stuff is important to
she says. “but on the whole, it’s only
confidence in her abiliguys,” the professor
one year of your life,
and it’s worth it.”
ties and her studies.”
says. “They can be
Andrea became a
really embarrassed
and scared.”
student ambassador, networking with
The takeaway: There’s more to nurs- nurse managers and hospital leaders
ing than biology and vitals.
and occasionally representing the pro“Nursing is a lot different than other gram during recruiting events. She’s also
medical jobs,” Andrea says later. “It
grown accustomed to interacting with
doesn’t just look at the person as a dispatients. “She’s gentle, mild-mannered,
ease. A nurse looks at the person as
and nothing really gets to her,” says Herron. “She’s a peaceful person. When she
a whole. You look at how you can help
them, how you can support them—not
walks into a room, she brings that peace
just physically but also emotionally.
with her and is able to calm everyone.”

This March, Andrea began her preceptorship, an intense work-study in
which she works with a nurse practitioner for 192 hours during the month
before graduation. At press time, she
was serving at The Rehabilitation Institute of St. Louis, located near Goldfarb,
before graduating this April.
Andrea realizes that earning her degree
from Goldfarb is just a starting point,
though. “I’d love to work in neonatal, once
I get more experience,” she says. She plans
to eventually return to school and earn her
doctorate in nursing practice.
She also hopes to one day start a family and possibly move to Kansas City.
Her fiancé, Mark—whose mother and
grandmother are also nurses—plans to
graduate from the accelerated nursing
program at the University of Missouri–
Columbia this May.
For now, though, Andrea is enjoying
her time at Goldfarb. “I’m in no rush,”
she says. “It’s challenging, but it’s fun.”
And Andrea’s finally over her fear of
needles. “It’s definitely easier to stick
people now,” she says with a laugh. “I
don’t know why I freaked myself out
about that so much!”
May 2015 stlmag.com