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In honor of the 200th anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birth, the World Health Organization designated 2020 the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife. The University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s College of Nursing has spent the past 12 months honoring Nightingale (1820–1910), who founded modern nursing and devoted her career to making hospitals cleaner and safer places to treat patients. Here’s how the year unfolded for current students, faculty, staff, and alumni.

January: Planning for Growth

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, nursing ranked in polls as the most trusted profession in the US. The events of 2020 have shown nurses to be frontline heroes, working long shifts in ICUs along with the other crucial duties of promoting health, preventing illness, conducting health care research, educating other health professionals, helping shape health care policy, and caring for the sick, disabled, and dying.

For some time, the nation’s demand for registered and advanced practice nurses has been growing at a fast pace. In Tennessee, a recent workforce projection study estimates a 40 percent increase in the need for registered nurses. To meet this growing demand, the college enacted a five-year plan to increase its annual enrollment by about 55 percent, from 800 students in 2018 to 1,250 in 2023, grow its faculty and staff, and more than double the size of the current building from 42,000 to 100,000 square feet.

A major step in carrying out the plan came in October 2019, when the college received the largest gift in its history—$7.5 million—from alumna Sara Croley (’00) and her husband, Ross. “Having worked as a nurse for many years, I have cared for people during some of their most difficult moments. Nurses play such an important role in people’s lives,” said Croley. “Ross and I are investing in the future of nursing in Tennessee. We hope this gift opens a door of opportunity for many more amazing nurses to enter the workforce.”

“This renovated and expanded building will provide students and faculty with an experiential learning environment that is inclusive and welcoming—that fosters collaboration and supports the growing academic and research mission of the College of Nursing,” said Dean Victoria Niederhauser.

February: Launch of the “I Am a Nurse” Campaign

College of Nursing faculty members are a special blend of clinician, educator, and scholar. To thank these dedicated nurses who teach students, engage in research and scholarship, and benefit our communities every day, the college launched an internal campaign to highlight the work of select faculty members with profiles on its website.

Clinical Instructor Jason Kiernan uses music as medicine. His dissertation research focuses on therapeutic listening interventions for patients experiencing chemotherapy-induced nausea. Associate Professor Lisa Lindley researches the effectiveness of pediatric hospice care. Professor Lora Beebe is a psychiatric nurse researcher whose work focuses on interventions to improve community living for individuals with schizophrenia and educating nursing students about recovery-based care for persons with psychiatric disorders.

Clinical Assistant Professor Jennifer Tourville works with newborns who were exposed to drugs, notably opioids, in the womb, which led to her initiative Project HOPE (Healing Opioid Use Disorder through Prevention and Expertise) to help rural communities mitigate the consequences of the opioid crisis through community engagement, outreach, and activities. “I am trying to make a difference,” said Tourville.

Clinical Instructor and Director of Simulation Susan Hébert develops methods for improving neonatal outcomes and lowering infant mortality rates. Professor Carole Myers is a tireless advocate for improving health care policies. Assistant Professor Tracey Vitori’s scientific interests include improving outcomes for people who have had cardiac surgery, and Associate Professor Sandra Mixer focuses on end-of-life care and developing strong holistic nurse leaders for rural and underserved communities. “All I ever wanted to be was a nurse,” said Mixer.

March: Nursing Alumni on the Front Lines of COVID-19

As nurses faced the unprecedented challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, the college launched a forum on its website for alumni on the front lines to share their stories. These included Rachael Hodges (’15), Erin Morgan (’06), and Amanda Noblett (’10), a family nurse practitioner and clinical faculty member at Vanderbilt University Medical Center who worked as team captain in full PPE at a Vanderbilt COVID assessment site. “I volunteered, per UT tradition, for this role,” wrote Noblett. “It is such an amazing experience to help provide early detection of COVID, reassure patients who are worried, and give appropriate patient education. I have been wearing my UT nursing socks to represent my alma mater. We will overcome this and thrive.”

Gillian Harris (’18), an oncology staff nurse at UT Medical Center, works with at-risk patients who are immunocompromised and can no longer have loved ones by their side during treatment. “When we decided on nursing,” wrote Harris, “we never imagined what being a nurse would mean for us only two years into our careers. We had no idea that our sweet patients would be stuck in their hospital rooms alone, not allowed visitors. We did not consider the possibility of running out of supplies to protect ourselves, not only from a disease plaguing the entire world, but also from routine nursing tasks such as wound care or chemotherapy administration.”

Kimberly Harvey and her ICU nursing team at TriStar Centennial Medical Center

Kimberly Harvey (’15) works in the ICU at Tristar Centennial Medical Center in Nashville. “By the end of March, visitation at our hospital was discontinued until further notice for patient and visitor safety,” wrote Harvey. “Suddenly, these critically ill, previously healthy, 30- to 60-year-olds were left solely in our care. All of a sudden, we became these patients’ everything—their support system, their reassurance, their champions, their cheerleaders, their therapists, and their caretakers—all at once. No matter your years of experience, you can’t leave a COVID shift at the door when you clock out. Every shift is a roller coaster of small victories and large setbacks, and my team’s nurses have felt every single one.”

April: 3D Printing Mask Adapters for Health Care Workers

Derrick MacGillivray

In searching for items to fabricate using 3D printing technology, Derrick MacGillivray, an instructional designer for the college, and his husband came upon a pattern for mask extenders and adapters. “I realized that we knew people that would likely need them,” said MacGillivray. “I knew that several of the faculty were working clinicals and that long hours with the masks created issues like discomfort and pressure sores. We also have many friends and extended family who work in health care, so we decided that we were going to provide extenders to as many people as we could.

“We began ordering extra filament and put a call out to friends, family, and others on Facebook. We immediately received a request for 20 from a respiratory therapist we know and the department she works in. Another request for 15 came in right behind that for a nursing friend. I sent the information out to the College of Nursing the same day and began getting requests within minutes. Over the course of several months, we printed and mailed or delivered over 200 of these to health care workers at no cost to them. Even now, I still occasionally get a request for a couple or a replacement as they wear out over time.”

May: Celebrating 25 Years of the Vine School Health Center

Twenty-five years ago, Associate Dean Nan Gaylord, in collaboration with Knox County Schools, helped to found the Vine School Health Center, a school-based physical and mental health center in the Langland Building of Knoxville’s Vine Middle Magnet School.

“In these 25 years, the Vine School Health Center has become a model of innovation for health care solutions for community children and families,” said Gaylord. “We provide quality pediatric medical care and mental health services foster the overall physical, mental, and behavioral health of those in the community. These missions have been more important than ever during this pandemic year. We wanted to have a celebration, but that wasn’t possible during the pandemic.”

June: Precious Prints Project Milestone

a Precious Prints impression of a child's fingerprint
The Precious Prints Project comforts grieving families with a sterling silver pendant bearing the fingerprint of their child.

Eight years ago, the College of Nursing partnered with a local business, Precious Metal Prints, to comfort families grieving the loss of a child with a sterling silver pendant bearing their child’s fingerprint. The program has expanded from the East Tennessee Children’s Hospital to hospitals throughout East Tennessee, with fundraising and project management handled by the Student Nurses Association.

This June, the Precious Prints Project marked the milestone of having given out 1,000 prints. “When we launched the Precious Prints Project,” said Clinical Instructor Lynne Miller, “we did not look ahead anticipating that we would gift over 1,000 families with a tangible remembrance of their child who was no longer with them. To honor these lives and support their families, now and in the future, is humbling and remains our single purpose.”

July: Research Supporting Expanded Autonomy for Advanced Practice Nurses

Carole Myers

Professor Carole Myers was one of three nursing leaders who conducted a national study to measure the impact of a decision by state leaders to waive physician oversight of advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) as a way of increasing health care access during the pandemic.

“The pandemic revealed persistent health disparities and major gaps in health care delivery and emergency preparedness,” Myers said. “It is imperative that proven solutions, such as allowing APRNs to practice in all states commensurate with their education and experiences, be deployed to advance equitable access to care for all people. It makes no sense to impose unnecessary barriers when people do not have access to needed care and services.”

“Our research team saw an important opportunity to describe and quantify the impact of the current ‘natural experiment’ created by the pandemic and executive orders issued by Tennessee Governor Bill Lee and other governors to temporarily remove barriers APRNs face in delivering care for which they are highly qualified,” she said. “The foundational knowledge of APRNs and other nurses helped them to deal with problems holistically and be resourceful and creative in finding solutions in difficult and sometimes desperate situations. How well APRNs provided services during the pandemic belie the need for outdated supervision requirements and make it hard to justify returning to unneeded practice barriers.”

August: Release of Alumna Lauren Akins’s Memoir

As part of VFL Class Crash, an effort last spring by UT alumni to support students adjusting to online classes, nursing alumna Lauren Akins (’12) and her husband, country music star Thomas Rhett, surprised Professor Maria Hurt’s online pharmacology class by joining their Zoom class meeting. Akins told the students how proud they should be for persevering during this time. “I know this is so hard, and I’m sure there are a lot of unknowns, new information, hurdles, and just a lot happening,” she said. “I just want to encourage you all. I’m so proud you chose this profession.” Rhett told the group, “She’s a Vol, so I’m a Vol. Thank you for all you’re doing now and everything you’re going to do in the future.”

In August, Akins released her memoir, Live in Love: Growing Together Through Life’s Changes, including her life-changing experiences doing nursing mission work in Haiti and then in Uganda, where she met the baby who would become the couple’s first daughter a year later.

“I think this year is more important than ever for people to not feel isolated or alone in the way they feel, what they think, and in their experiences,” said Akins. “I’m hoping people can find themselves along the pages of my book, feel encouraged, and give them hope to pursue what’s in their spirit and to love well.”

September: 100 Percent CRNA Licensure Pass Rate

In September, graduates of the nurse anesthesia concentration sat for the National Certification Exam (NCE) to practice as a certified registered nurse anesthetist.

“The NCE national average first-time pass rate is 84.3 percent,” said Program Director and Clinical Associate Professor Julie Bonom. “For the first time in 15 years, our 2020 graduates achieved a 100 percent first-time pass rate on the NCE. Despite the unprecedented stress, fear, and uncertainties induced by COVID-19, the 2020 nurse anesthesia graduates completed their journey with overwhelming success, demonstrating resilience and dedication in true Volunteer spirit.”

Nurse anesthetists deliver more than 45 million anesthetics annually. CRNAs can practice with or without an anesthesiologist in every setting where anesthesia is delivered, including hospitals, ambulatory surgery centers, and physician, dentist, and podiatrist offices. In some states, CRNAs are the sole anesthesia provider in nearly all rural hospitals, ensuring patient access to obstetrical, surgical, trauma stabilization, and pain management care.

“Our nurse anesthesia faculty have provided outstanding leadership over the last several years to ensure tremendous rigor in the didactic and clinical training of our CRNA students,” said Executive Associate Dean of Academic Affairs and Professor Sadie Hutson. “They have closely monitored changes in the national board certification examination, incorporated new study skills and exam-taking strategies, and provided outstanding support to the students during very challenging circumstances.”

October: Health Screenings for Game Day Staff

Nursing faculty and students exemplified the Volunteer spirit by giving their time in partnership with the Athletics Department to conduct health screenings for all Neyland Stadium staff, employees, and volunteer workers at each home game during the 2020 football season.

Dubbed health referees, they ensured that ushers, first responders, and food and beverage service workers passed health checks that included a temperature screen and questions.

Shelia Swift, assistant dean of undergraduate programs, said the partnership was an excellent way for UT’s undergraduate nursing students to get involved during the pandemic to help provide a safe game day environment.

“Our exceptional students are excited about the opportunity to provide health screening services at all the home games this season, and to show what it means to be a true Volunteer,” she said.

November: $100,000 Raised through Virtual NightinGala

At the livestreamed 12th annual NightinGala celebration, Janell Cecil, recently retired chief nursing officer of UT Medical Center, received the Volunteer Nursing Champion Award and Tennessee Representative Robin Smith (’85) was honored with the Dr. Sylvia E. Hart Distinguished Alumni Award. Smith represents Tennessee House District 26, which includes parts of Chattanooga and Hamilton Counties.

Victoria Niederhauser​

“Now more than ever, when nurses are so desperately needed to provide care on the front lines of the COVID pandemic, we need to support our students to be best prepared for the future workforce,” said Dean Victoria Niederhauser. “In raising money to support student scholarships, we are able to ease the stress associated with the financial burden and allow students to focus more directly on their studies.”

Thomas Rhett surprised guests by concluding the livestream with a recorded performance of his chart-topping hit Be a Light. “This event is important for so many reasons,” Rhett said. “This cause is definitely close to our hearts. As nurses, you all are such beacons of light in this world, and we’re incredibly grateful for the work you’re doing.”

The event raised over $100,000, with all proceeds supporting the college’s efforts to provide nursing students with scholarships, state-of-the art technology, and equipment.

December: Training Health Care Leaders on Racial Bias

Tami Wyatt​

As alumnae of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Scholars program, Dean Victoria Niederhauser and Associate Dean Tami H. Wyatt are collaborating on an innovative racial equity learning program for senior health care administrators across the country. “Focusing on diversity and equity in health care education is essential, and this topic is timely,” said Wyatt. “Dean Niederhauser and I are thrilled to work with Dr. Corliss Thompson, a diversity expert, and offer this program to other health care education leaders across the US.”

Looking toward 2021

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to test health workers at all levels—and with widespread dissemination of a vaccine still months away—faculty, students, and alumni of the College of Nursing can reflect on their achievements of 2020. These accomplishments were carried out in the most adverse circumstances seen by members of their profession in a century, with pride in knowing that each one of them has made a difference in countless lives in ways that would make Florence Nightingale amazed at how the nursing profession has evolved.


Kara Clark (865-974-9498,​

Brooks Clark (865-310-1277,