Becoming an Oncology Nurse with the Help of Working Families Program

Passionate about helping others, Jamie (Loynes) Smeester ‘15 joined the Army National Guard and left home for basic training after high school graduation. At the young age of 19 and after a brief courtship, Jamie found love and married a fellow soldier. They lived at a military base in Tennessee, and Jamie’s two beautiful daughters were born during this chapter of her life. Nearly a decade after she enlisted, Jamie’s marriage ended and she found herself the sole provider to her young daughters. While she gained a lot of life experience serving her Country, Jamie decided it was time for some big changes. Focused on providing financial stability for her children, she returned to Wisconsin and began applying for jobs.

A Job Opportunity Changes Life’s Course

She completed a medical assistant program, and found a job working as a medical assistant at a cancer center in Oshkosh. But Jamie also found an unexpected job perk. She worked alongside a group of oncology nurses that enjoyed their careers, and inspired a shift in her thinking. Jamie’s thoughts turned from having a job to building a career. Her life vision had never included becoming a nurse, but that was about to change. Determined to traverse this path, Jamie decided to go back to school for her undergraduate degree. With its excellent reputation and nursing program, Marian University was at the top of her list. Jamie was accepted into several schools, including her top pick – Marian University. And her decision was made easy when she learned Marian was the only school that accepted and transferred her existing college credits.

A Mutual Friend Shares a Blessing

Jamie was overwhelmed by the demands of being a single, working mom and decided she would start with part-time classes. She enjoyed school but struggled with the financial burden and inability to balance family, work, and school. That’s when Jamie learned about the Working Families Program (WFP) through a mutual friend who was in the program. Without really understanding the magnitude of its support, Jamie applied believing WFP would offer tuition assistance.

Jamie was excited to learn that she had been accepted in the WFP and soon realized she had inaccurate assumptions of what the program offers its participants. A community of academic support, tuition and child-care assistance, family-focused environment for her daughters, accountability – these are just some of the blessings she found through WFP. Jamie enrolled in full-time classes as she could afford to cut back to part-time at work. While it was never easy and she had a lot of sleepless nights, Jamie was able to find the right balance and maintains, “If not for the support of Working Families Program, I would not have been able to finish my degree.”

Degree Opens Door to Career  

Despite the difficulties she faced, Jamie reflects on her time at Marian as one of the greatest journeys she’s taken. Walking across the stage at her graduation ceremony (May/2015) is a memory she will cherish forever as it represents the courage, hard work, and persistence that it took to get to that day. Jamie’s nursing degree has opened the door to possibilities that simply did not exist before. She was promoted to an RN position and worked alongside the same group of oncology nurses that inspired her to build a bridge to her career.

For the past five years, Jamie has worked as an Oncology Nurse at SSM Health’s Fond du Lac Cancer Center. She recalls the days in her skills lab when starting an IV was nerve-wracking and is filled with gratitude to remember what she had to overcome to come this far.

Jamie hopes to inspire others, especially her children, to always believe, “Even when life doesn’t go your way, you can put in the hard work required to achieve your goals.” Her passion for patient care is still the same, but in earning her Bachelor of Science in Nursing through the support of Marian’s WFP, Jamie has built a career that allows her to make a bigger difference while doing what she loves.

Marian University’s Working Families Program began in 2001 and supports single parents while earning their Bachelor’s degree. Learn more about the Working Families Program.