Q & A with Shawn Waldron ’12

Shawn Waldron ’19
Shawn Waldron ’12

Where do you consider your hometown?

Wausau, WI, but I have lived in Milwaukee, WI; Washington, DC; Madison, WI; Anchorage, AK; and St. Paul, MN.

Where are you now, and how are you using your bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree?

Currently, I am working at McMurdo Station on Antarctica and have been for most of the last 3 years. From August 2018 to August 2020, I was the nurse manager of the medical center. McMurdo’s medical center serves as a clinic, urgent care, and hospital. We are on station to provide routine and emergency medical services to the residents of McMurdo Station (United States Antarctic), Scott Base (New Zealand Antarctic), and any other agency that may require medical care.

In August 2020, I accepted the additional responsibility, and subsequently a new job title, of COVID-19 Medical Risk Manager, tasked with the development of policies and procedures in the management and isolation of any COVID-19 patients. I continue to work as a nurse in the clinic, but I also managed setting up our COVID preparedness.

Being a nurse in a remote setting allows you to function to the fullest extent of your ability and training. As part of our training on station, I learned how to run labs, take x-rays/ultrasounds, and manage patients when you may not have everything you would use back in the United States. A big part of my job is critical thinking, problem solving, and finding creative solutions to situations. Additionally, I am a resource for the station on a variety of topics and provide education and community health needs as required.

My BSN provided a great start to my graduate education and I completed a master’s degree in nursing leadership and management from George Washington University in 2015.  Currently, I am applying to DNP programs (Adult Acute-Care or Family Practice NP).

McMurdo Station, Antarctica
McMurdo General Hospital, McMurdo Station, Antarctica

Why did you choose the UW–Madison School of Nursing (SON)?

I didn’t know what I wanted to “be” when I graduated high school and started college a few years later than most of my peers (I did AmeriCorps NCCC in Washington, DC, and worked as a home health aide before I started college at Madison College). I started my associate degree in nursing in 2003 at Northcentral Technical College in Wausau, WI, and graduated in 2005.

I moved to Madison in 2006 and started working at St. Mary’s Hospital in the Cardiac Cath Lab. While I was there, I realized I wanted to advance my knowledge, skills, and abilities, which would require me to earn my BSN. I chose the BSN@Home program through UW–Madison because it allowed me the flexibility to do some classes online (while working full-time) with some classes in person.  I liked that the UW School of Nursing has a strong public/community health program with a variety of clinical practicum opportunities.

What’s the most rewarding part of being a nurse?

The most rewarding part for me is that, a lot of the time, we meet people on the worst day of their lives and we get them through it. Nursing is an art and a science; you need both to be able to excel at it. As a nurse, I have been there for the first breath and the last breath; it is powerful to feel that connection to your patient and the cycle of life.

What advice would you give to first-year nursing students?

Seek out experiences when you are in clinical; don’t be scared of that new procedure/patient/experience. Clinicals are a safe space to learn and to grow your skills, the RNs are not going to let you fail. Keep an open mind about where you want your career to go; your BSN opens a lot of doors to a lot of different experiences, so don’t be scared to take chances. Never stop learning and challenging yourself. Ask questions; it is easier to ask a question than fix a mistake.

What advice would you give to recent alumni?

One of the best parts of nursing, for me, is the ability to move into new areas of practice. Many health care careers don’t allow for that flexibility. Don’t be scared to try new areas and take chances. Continue to learn and grow as a nurse. Remember that nurses are not there to judge, we provide care to everyone without prejudice. Wash your hands—a lot.  Don’t be scared to ask for help, nursing is a team sport and no one should make you feel bad for asking questions.

Who was your favorite instructor at the School of Nursing? Why?

Mary Jo Borden was my favorite instructor at the SON. I found that working with her was amazing, she was one of the most caring and passionate nurses I have ever met. She challenged me to not accept the status quo, to think outside the box and, above all, show compassion and empathy. She opened my eyes to areas of nursing outside the hospital (up to then, I had only worked in-patient). She encouraged me to seek out opportunities, advance my education, and challenge the status quo.

What’s the biggest challenge facing nurses today?

As the largest segment of the health care workforce, nurses need to start using their political power as a force for change. Too long, we have not had a seat at the table, and the time has come to start asserting our power. Nurses have unique knowledge, skills, and abilities that should be recognized in a variety of settings: public policy, public health, health care funding, environmental, government, and politics. Nurses are skilled at finding compromise, which our current government needs. Funding for health care services rarely addresses the costs and needs of nurses, and most of time, we are part of the “room charge” for hospital stays. The health care system is and will continue to have challenges with funding and the aging population, and nurses should be at the table to help solve those challenges.

Shawn Waldron ’19, Antarctica
Shawn Waldron ’12, Antarctica

What has been a “silver lining” during the pandemic for you?

I have a unique view of the pandemic. To be open, I have not been present for it (been in Antarctica since August 2019), so I have been watching it from the outside looking in (and in reality, we were totally isolated from February 2020 until September 2020, so my life didn’t change until September).  We also have access to the New Zealand news down here, so I’ve been able to compare the US and the NZ response to it.

I think there are a few silver linings to the pandemic. One, it really helps people see what is important to them (family, friends, etc.) and how you stay connected when you can’t physically meet up. Second, it showed the incredible amount of ingenuity and creativeness that’s in the health care field (ex. registered nurses figuring out how to create isolation units; respiratory therapists figuring out to make a vent work for multiple patients; housekeepers finding new ways to clean and disinfect spaces; all the people who learned to make facial coverings). Third, it showed how unprepared the health care system is for a pandemic (non-traditional silver lining) — where the holes are in the planning process and how and what we need to prepare for the future.