The best nurses combine expert theoretical knowledge with years of experience applying those theories in clinical settings. They bring a depth of intelligence, creativity, and commitment to the challenges of the modern nursing workforce.

These are some of the many nursing qualities the World Health Assembly has decided to celebrate by declaring 2020 the International Year of the Nurse. The designation coincides with the 200th anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birth. As part of the celebration, the American Nurses Association (ANA) is expanding National Nurses Week from one week in May to a yearlong celebration of nurses.

In the spirit of the International Year of the Nurse, four graduates from Marian University’s Bachelor of Nursing Science programs – which is offered in both a four-year and fast-track three-year program – spoke recently about their education experience and the impact of their work in Fond du Lac and statewide.

Marian University Nursing Alumni

Among their other accomplishments, some Marian University nursing alumni have returned to work with the university as professors or on the nursing school advisory board.

“I’m proud to have so many Marian University nursing alumni as faculty members on our team and in positions of influence in the nursing community in Wisconsin,” said Kimberly Udlis, Ph.D. FNP-BC, FAANP. Dr. Udlis is the Associate Dean and Chief Nurse Administrator for the Marian University Nursing Department. She is a nationally recognized leader in nursing education and is very dedicated to ensuring that all nursing students receive the best education possible and preparation for practice. She also maintains a nursing practice, working one day per week as a nurse practitioner. “We place a great emphasis on producing graduates who are ready to become leaders in nursing. It’s deeply satisfying to see our graduates put their Marian University education into action.”

In addition to the Bachelor of Nursing Science, Marian University offers an online RN to BSN program for working nurses ready to complete their bachelor’s degree. At the graduate level, Marian University offers a hybrid online and on-campus Master of Science in Nursing Family Nurse Practitioner track.

Marian University Graduates Making an Impact

Four graduates recently spoke about their experiences at Marian University and how their careers unfolded after graduation. It provides both a look at their accomplishments and an example for current and future nursing students thinking about career possibilities.

Marcia Mueller: One of 15

In 1990, Marcia Mueller graduated from the Marian BSN program in a class that held just 15 people. Mueller took a job at St. Agnes Hospital in Fond du Lac, staying there until 2017. After working in med-surgery, she went into home health.

“Home Infusion was coming on the scene at this time, and I really enjoyed these complex cases, critical thinking and technical aspects of home nursing,” Mueller said. She became one of the first St. Agnes nurses to become PICC (peripherally inserted central catheter) trained. She became instrumental in creating the Home Infusion Department and PICC Team at St. Agnes Hospital.

She later earned the CRNI (certified registered nurse infusion) designation. Mueller also played a central role in opening an Ambulatory Infusion Center and Anticoagulation Management Service at St. Agnes as well as Waupun Memorial Hospital and Ripon Hospital as the supervisor.

She returned to school, earning an MSN in 2014 and becoming a Board Certified Family Nurse Practitioner. Mueller now works with United Healthcare-Optum Housecalls. She specializes in caring for patients recently out of the hospital and preventing hospitalizations.

“The nursing foundation provided to me by Marian definitely paved the way for an amazing career thus far,” she said. “I look back at my time at Marian with gratitude for my education, smiles for all of the great times, and thankfulness for the lifelong friendships made there. I may not have gone far geographically, but I have traveled a million miles in my life and nursing career.”

Katherine Vergos: Wanting to Make a Difference

Katherine (Mantz) Vergos also graduated in 1990. She says that looking back now, some of her best memories are about Dr. Richard Ridenour, United States Navy retired, who was Marian president during the time.

“He was such an amazing mentor. I remember telling him: ‘I have no idea what I want to do after Marian, but I know I want to make a difference.’ This conversation was the first of many that led to my commissioning as an Officer in the U.S. Navy.”

Vergos spent three years on active duty in the Navy Nurse Corps at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. After leaving there, Vergos returned to Fond du Lac where she has served in healthcare leadership positions at Aurora Healthcare and now Agnesian HealthCare (SSM Health). She is currently the Chief Operating Officer and Chief Nursing Officer at St. Agnes Hospital.

Earning a Masters in Health Care Administration in 2014 Vergos became board certified as a Fellow in the American College of Healthcare Executives. The Marian University School of Nursing Advisory Council is grateful to have her on the board.

Vergos said she is “blessed to be able to give back to the institution that invested so much in me. I am proud to be an alumna of Marian University and am forever grateful for the quality of education I received and the relationships I developed that shaped who I am today in my personal and professional life.”

Ashley Schmitz: A Timely Transfer

Ashley Schmitz started college at the University of Wisconsin – Madison but decided to transfer to Marian University. Having grown up in Fond du Lac, Schmitz decided to come back home.

Schmitz said it “made sense to transfer to Marian, a university that I knew had a strong nursing program and more intimate class sizes. Ironically, my time at Marian led me down a different career trajectory than the one I came there for, one that I’m confident I would not have chosen had I not gone to Marian.”

That career path involved research, which Schmitz said she “fell in love” with during her time at Marian. She credits the “modest, accessible environment at Marian” for allowing her to participate in programs and courses that stimulated her interest in research.

After earning her BSN from Marian, Schmidt went on to earn a Ph.D. from Ohio State University in human nutrition and cancer prevention and is now earning an MSN to become a family nurse practitioner.

“I’m not sure what career I’d have had I not transferred to Marian, but I can’t imagine it’s anything I would be more excited about than the one I’m in,” said Schmitz. “I ultimately have my time at Marian and people I met to thank for that.”

Julie Schneider: Returning to Teach The Next Generation

Julie Schneider’s career has taken her full circle, as she now teaches at Marian University. After graduating with a BSN from Marian University in 1995, Schneider worked at Beaver Dam Community Hospital. She worked in ICU, day surgery and medical-surgical units, but finally found “my interests were best aligned with emergency nursing, where I practiced for ten years.”

Schneider earned an MSN in 2004, having started the program just six weeks after the birth of her first child. She then worked as an Advanced Practice Nurse Practitioner at Mercury Marine Family Medical Center.

“When Mercury Marine Family Medical center became a part of Agnesian Healthcare, I recognized the lack of Advanced Practice Nurses in supervisory roles and a great need for NPs to be better educated in order to advance the profession,” Schneider said. She decided to earn a Doctor of Nursing Practice in 2013.

Through her DNP Capstone project – “along with tremendous support” – she started Fond du Lac Health Professionals, which partners with the Wisconsin Nurses Association to provide continuing nursing education to local Advanced Practice nurses.

“I am excited to be teaching Advanced Practice Students at Marian University. I feel my previous experience, education and life choices have led me to this role,” she said. “I am very honored to have been encouraged and supported by many throughout my career that started right here at Marian!”