Alumni, Faculty, Students Share Spotlights during National Nurses Week

Undergraduate Student Spotlight: Laura Phelps


Why did you pursue a degree in nursing?

Ever since I was young I have always had a passion to help others and loved the medical field. Through my health science involvement in high school, I discovered nursing was the perfect mix between my desire to be around people and to make a difference in my patient’s lives. Nurses have the most unique perspective and will always play a special role in a patient’s health care journey. Now with my time at UT coming to a close, I am eager to start my career as a nurse and hopefully touch many people’s lives.


What are your plans after graduation?

I have accepted a position at Saint Thomas Midtown in Nashville in the Critical Care track. I will have the opportunity to work in their Cardiac, Medical, and Surgical Intensive Care Units.


What advice do you have for those interested in pursuing a nursing degree?

I would say to never forget what made you want to become a nurse and the enthusiasm behind that. Although nursing school is very challenging, work hard and really find what kind of nursing fuels your passion. If you keep that at the forefront of your mind it is the most rewarding job.


Favorite memory of your time as a student at the UT College of Nursing?

All the work I have done with the Precious Prints Project and watching it expand through my time at UT. This year I had the opportunity to travel to Las Vegas with some members of the College of Nursing to teach nursing students at UNLV how to implement the Precious Prints Project in their area. It has been rewarding to work hands on with a student initiative that comforts grieving families through the gift of a charm bearing the fingerprint of their child.



Graduate Student Spotlight: Melissa Hessock

Why did you pursue a graduate degree in nursing?

I love being a nurse practitioner.  It is truly an honor to be invited into a patient’s life, be entrusted with their concerns, and partner with them to develop a plan for improved health and wellbeing.  After 10 years of practice as a NP I began to wonder how I could make a bigger contribution to patients, populations, and my profession.  I knew the first step was to pursue my doctorate. Ultimately I chose the DNP because I believe in doctoral level education for nurse practitioners and felt strongly that I needed to have the terminal degree of my profession.

What are your plans after graduation? 

I am currently applying for faculty positions.  Our healthcare system faces many challenges, one of the biggest is the need for nurses and primary care providers.  I hope to be part of the upstream solution to this problem by educating future nurses and nurse practitioners.

What advice do you have for those interested in pursuing a graduate degree in nursing? 

Jump on in, the water is warm!  There is never the perfect time to return to school.  With motivation, determination, the friends you make in the program, and the support of the amazing faculty of UT’s College of Nursing you can do this.  My recommended grad school survival items are a planner, tri-colored pen, Starbucks, and a frequently used APA manual!

Favorite memory of your time as a student at the UT College of Nursing?

When Dr. Brewer said, “Let me be the first to congratulate you Dr. Hessock” after I successfully defended my scholarly project.  I felt such a sense of accomplishment knowing I had translated what I learned in the DNP program into an actionable evidence-based practice change that will positively affect women’s lives.


Faculty Spotlight: Kathy Newnam

Why this field?

A career in Nursing was my dream from childhood. During my teen years, I volunteered at our church sponsored retirement community and during my junior and senior years in high school, I was a hospital volunteer. We were called “pink ladies” because we wore pink uniforms.

My path was not an easy one. I was the oldest of four children, raised in a loving but modest family and the first who wanted to go to college. I worked summers and was a work-study student to support my college tuition and fees. My childhood and later experiences provided the work ethic that has aided my success and lifelong love of learning. Nursing is an amazing path, providing opportunities to practice patient care in various settings, roles within hospital administration, education and clinical research. I am proud to say I have participated in most of these opportunities throughout my 38-year nursing career. As an advanced practice nurse practitioner, I continue to care for neonatal patients and their patients hospitalized in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

What are your outside interests?

My family is the center of my life. Married to an amazing man for 42 years, we continue to support each other’s goals and dreams. This includes my dream to move to Tennessee and start a new career as nurse faculty. I have two grown daughters and three beautiful grandchildren that enjoy spending time with Nana and Granddaddy.

What is something that is still on your bucket list?

I enjoy travel and have seen many beautiful places in the US and abroad. My husband and I would like to take a river cruise in Europe when travel is safe again. We plan to rent an RV and take the two oldest grandkids across the country to see some of the national parks. And a hot air balloon ride is a must on the bucket list!

If you didn’t do this what would you do?

If I was not a nurse, I would still be a scientist. Looking at things, examining how they work and what we could do “better” is a mental exercise that is part of me. I enjoy the analytic process and discovery of it.

What is your favorite spot on campus?

I love standing on the pedestrian bridge beside the student union and looking out past Neyland Stadium and hear the clock chime on the hill. My other favorite is looking out my office window and seeing the seniors in all their regalia for photo op’s around graduation. They stand on the painted checker board across Payton Manning Pass with Neyland Stadium in the background. They are excited, running between cars and laughing with friends. It is a real joy to see!


Young Alumni Spotlight: Caroline Darlington (2016)

What academic and/or career accomplishments are you most proud of?

The high points of my career in women’s health are those moments when I can directly see the powerful impact that I as a nurse (and now nurse practitioner) can have on the lives of my patients. Some of the moments that I treasure the most have been some of the hardest, like helping a mother process her grief after a stillbirth or helping a woman with opioid addiction navigate treatment options for herself and her child. I have a box where I keep the letters and encouraging notes I receive from my patients. It’s a tangible reminder to me that being a nurse is an incredible privilege and what I do matters. As far as academic accomplishments, I am most proud of publishing my very first manuscript (yay!) while at UTK alongside my fabulous mentor, Dr. Sadie Hutson. I am now pursuing my Nursing PhD, which means many more publications ahead of me. But that publication will always be the most special because it was my first.


What key lessons did you take from the UT College of Nursing into your professional life?

Perseverance, perseverance, perseverance! I learned in nursing school that it is natural to doubt yourself and it’s okay to be afraid, especially when your world is turned upside down overnight by a global pandemic. But, from care plans to COVID-19, I learned that I do have the capability and courage to continue even in the most overwhelming and seemingly insurmountable circumstances. No one becomes a nurse by accident. When you choose to become a nurse, you are choosing a life of courage and self-sacrifice but also one of incredible reward. Persevering on that path, wherever it takes you, is always worth it.


What are your most memorable moments as a nursing student at UT?

Sharing memes on our class Facebook group to cope with study stress, presenting my research at a national conference in Chicago, and running the Sprint for the Prints 5K were a few highlights of nursing school. Many of my friendships with classmates and faculty have lasted beyond graduation. No one misses the long hours in Hodges Library or Marathon Mondays in CON 201. But we do look back fondly on the moments we bonded through it all!


What advice do you have for our 2020 nursing graduates?

  • Nursing can be an exhausting profession that calls us to sacrifice ourselves in many ways. But it’s important to ground your identity outside of the stresses of your profession. A fellow nurse once told me, “Remember that you are Caroline who is also a nurse, not a nurse who is also named Caroline.” Take care of yourself, remember who you are as a person… and that, in turn, will give you the freedom and capacity to effectively pour yourself out for your patients.


  • Find your passion in nursing and pursue it. Whether you’ve already identified a nursing specialty that you love or you are still figuring it out, remember what made you first choose nursing as a career and go after the specialty that makes that part of you come alive.


  • Keep in touch with your classmates and faculty. They are your colleagues now and can be a lifeline as you translate your knowledge from textbooks into practice. Being a Vol nurse means you are more than prepared to make this exciting transition. So, go forth with confidence to care for the world… and always GO VOLS!


Alumni Spotlight: Sharon Hager (1983)

What career accomplishments are you most proud of? 

Having been with CommonSpirit Health (and its predecessor, Catholic Health Initiatives) for over fifteen years, I would say that most every day is special and I generally feel as if I accomplish something every day.  I would say, though, with the onset of COVID-19, it has been challenging to assist the hospitals I work with in finding unique resolutions to a set of very unique issues which all hospitals are faced with on a day to day basis.  Working through the regulatory requirements surrounding much of what hospitals have to deal with on a daily basis is particularly challenging in these times.

What key lessons did you take from the UT College of Nursing into your professional life? 

Patience, an ability to think through problems and apply what I learned and an ability to stay calm no matter what is going on around me.  I remember my first nursing position where I was working side by side with nurses who had completed a diploma program – they could stick an IV and insert a catheter with no problem – there were shifts where I felt totally inadequate.  But after a few months (and after I picked up a few skills!) I truly came to value my ability to think through an issue – something I definitely credit the CON for and certainly valuable lessons that have carried over into my legal career.

What are your most memorable moments as a nursing student at UT?

Obviously, the friends I made many of us who are still in touch.  Memorable – picking up our lunch at 6a in the Morrill cafeteria as we were somewhat bleary-eyed after trying to get our care plans and drug cards completed.  My being the designated driver in the few snows we had since I was from the “north” so clearly must know how to drive in the white stuff.  Statistics final on Saturday morning senior year– the same day as the Vandy football game so we were able to listen the Pride of the Southland band warm up for the game (a little distracting…).  And finally, the party that Dr. Sylvia Hart and Dr. Dale Goodfellow threw for the seniors prior to graduation at their home.