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In a Test of Mettle, Nurses Continue to Learn - Fall 2021

by Rod Jones 

Man seated, facing a woman
Jack Lethermon. Photo by Josh Robinson

Despite the pandemic, and in a way somewhat fueled by it, two students in the Kramer School of Nursing are forging ahead with their educational plans in a field that is seeing many of its ranks leaving the trade amidst stressful times for the health care industry.

Jack Lethermon, a nurse in the Psychiatric Mental Health DNP track, and Rachael Bachhofer, a nurse/professor/student working her way through the DNP completion program, are both working as nurses while expanding their education, albeit on completely different paths.

Lethermon works at a post-acute specialty hospital in Tulsa. He carpools with a fellow classmate to OCU on Wednesdays for his in-person classes and does the rest of the coursework from home.

Bachhofer is a traveling nurse working in Providence, Rhode Island, with plans to work somewhere in the Pacific Northwest before returning home to Oklahoma to teach in January.

Both appreciate the flexibility provided by KSN in these uncertain times while they help in the fight against the pandemic.

“The instructors at Kramer (School of Nursing) have been so understanding of what we’re going through, and they’re willing to work with us on our deadlines so we can keep doing our jobs while taking classes,” Bachhofer said. “Of all the other programs I’ve considered, none has offered this much flexibility, and their support for students is unmatched.”

Lethermon has had a similar experience.

“You can tell the staff and professors really care about their students’ success,” he said. “Dr. Crawford (Gina, currently the interim dean at KSN) made me feel comfortable about joining the program and convinced me it would be manageable, so I went for it.”

As a veteran of the Army Reserves, Lethermon ultimately would like to work at a Veterans Administration site. He will complete his clinical work at the Muscogee Creek Nation Hospital.

Lethermon said he started college late, spending most of his post-high school days in the oil and gas field. He credits his high school health teacher as an inspiration to get into health care. He has since paid forward that inspiration to serve onto his own children – three are nurses and one is a police officer.

Woman in nursing uniform
Rachael Bachhofer. Photo by Candice Black

Bachhofer went to college after high school, graduating with a BSN in 2018, with a minor in child advocacy. She continued her educational pursuits to earn a master’s degree in nursing education last year. If there’s one thing more concerning than the shortage of nurses, industry leaders might say it’s the shortage of nursing educators.

Bachhofer has taught at three universities and plans to continue teaching at two of those once she returns to Oklahoma early next year. Meanwhile, she and her fiancé, also a nurse, decided in February that it was time for a change in scenery. They loaded up their 100-square-foot camper and set off on a stint of travel nursing, where they work with an agent to obtain temporary employment in a part of the country of their choosing. As one would expect, the work is hard to do but easy to find. They worked in Texas before heading up to the Northeast.

Bachhofer said the experience working at multiple hospitals has provided an education of its own, as they’ve been able to add different techniques and ideas to their repertoire along the way.

The pandemic has caused a seismic shift in many aspects of the job. It has offered an early use of skills that Lethermon hopes to use more of within his chosen profession – to be a bedside beacon of comfort for patients who need it most.

“When it first hit we were really busy, but we thought we’d be in and out of it in a few months. As we now know, that’s not the case,” Lethermon noted. “It’s hard to watch as families can’t be there in person. So, nurses are called to be more present as a source of comfort. We’re also called upon to talk to family members via phone about their loved one’s condition. Anything we can do to put the family at ease.”

Lethermon said the psychiatric nurse practitioner role puts him in a better situation for a prolonged nursing career.

“The great thing about nursing is there are lots of different ways to work to suit your needs and abilities – consulting, home health, hospice care, so many more. I love talking with people and have always wished I could have more time bedside.”

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