Share on Social Media
Endowment honors nurse’s innate dedication, leadership to profession
As a young girl in South Texas, Juanita Ruth Kirkpatrick Smith would eagerly await her mother’s return home from her shift as a special duty nurse. She loved listening to her mother recount her workday with stories of how she helped patients by assisting other nurses and doctors. Smith dreamed of the day she would become a nurse too. What she didn’t know then was the impact she would have on future nursing students through an endowed scholarship, which now bears her name.
The Juanita Ruth Kirkpatrick Smith, B.S.N., RN, M.S.H.P.Ed., Endowed Scholarship was established by Smith’s first cousin, Barbara Banker, to honor not only her dream of becoming a nurse, but also the strength and courage it took her to achieve it, and the compassion and focus on patient care that defined her almost 30-year nursing career.
“She is a natural-born nurse,” said Banker, who serves on the Nursing Advisory Council for the School of Nursing. “She hears something that no one else hears when she takes care of someone. I have always admired her, and she was my inspiration for this scholarship.”
In order to qualify for this scholarship, students must be enrolled at the master’s level majoring in a nurse practitioner program, demonstrate financial need and possess a G.P.A. of 3.5 or above. Applicants must also complete a personal written statement explaining interest and motivation in pursuing their degree.
The first recipient of this scholarship is Erin Brooke Madison, 25, who currently works full time in the pediatric ICU at University Hospital and is enrolled part time in the School of Nursing’s family nurse practitioner master’s degree program.
“This scholarship helps ease the financial burden that comes along with continuing my education,” said Madison, who is also a newlywed and expecting her first child. “Knowing Mrs. Smith’s story and how she never gave up on her dream, encourages me as well. I always enjoy knowing a person’s story, and I think that is why I enjoy nursing so much.”
With a genuine concern for others and a passion for learning, Madison embodies the characteristics of the nursing student Smith and Banker hope this scholarship continues to help, and ironically, for Smith, now 85, it all began with stories.
“Mother would come home and tell stories about her cases and surgeries,” Smith recalled, “and I would just sit there and soak it in. She never really encouraged me to go into nursing because she said it was really hard, hard work, but I loved the sciences and I wanted to be a nurse.”
A nurse she became. In fact, Smith at age 44 was one of the first graduates of the School of Nursing at the UT Health Science Center in 1975, earning her Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree. The road to her dream, however, was not a straight one. Graduating from high school at 16, Smith’s mother believed she was too young to attend either of the closest nursing schools in San Antonio or Houston, so her dream was placed on hold. Instead, she took business courses at Texas A&I University in her hometown of Kingsville. Soon, she married and had three children.
A decade later and living in Corpus Christi, her family was in need of a supplemental income, so Smith turned back to her dream by applying for a nurse’s aide position in the local hospital. A job in the admitting office, however, paid double that of a nurse’s aide and once more, her dream was placed on hold.
“She worked very hard for a very long time, and she kind of glosses over some of the obstacles she had,” explained Banker, “but there were obstacles that would have stopped most people dead in their tracks. She just kept going.”
After working the noon to 9 p.m. shift for two years in the hospital and a short stint as a receptionist and transcriber for a medical doctor, Smith returned to school and earned a certificate as a petroleum draftsman launching her almost 10-year career in the oil business.
Eventually, everything aligned and she enrolled in a licensed vocational nursing program at Mercy Hospital in Jourdanton, finally living her dream of studying and working in the nursing profession. Smith worked as an LVN full time and took classes at night for the next seven years in order to receive her B.S.N. in 1975.
She continued her education completing her Master of Science degree in Health Professions and Administration in 1979 from Southwest Texas State University, now Texas State University, in San Marcos and earning her counseling certification in 1990 from the University of North Texas in Denton. Her only regret is not being able to pursue her desire to become a nurse practitioner, which is why the scholarship is focused on helping students enrolled in such a program.
“My main message is,” Smith reiterated, “it is never too late to follow your dream. It just takes a lot of determination.”
For Smith, the simple dream of becoming a nurse culminated in a legacy that even she couldn’t foresee. She founded the health occupations/health careers programs first at John Marshall High School in San Antonio and then at Plano East Senior High in Plano, Texas. The program she created to introduce high school students to careers in the medical field is the cornerstone of today’s successful magnet high school in the Northside Independent School District in San Antonio, known as Health Careers High School.
“In teaching, I loved being with the kids,” Smith said, explaining that she continued to work as a nurse and kept her skills up to date while teaching, “but nursing has always been the love of my life.”
The countless patients, students and medical colleagues who had the good fortune to know Smith are certainly grateful that she never gave up on her dream; and now through the scholarship, which bears her name, many more dreams will come true.
Article by Salwa Choucair