Jeanette Rupert is an NHCC nursing alumni who fights the pandemic at her full-time job and also volunteers in her spare time at George Floyd Square. Jeanette has a tireless commitment to serving others and this is her story.
What drew you to nursing/what’s your background story?
One of the pivotal points that drew me into nursing, was when my son was hit by a car ten years ago. My husband and I were getting our other two daughters out of their car seats and as we turned around, we heard the screeching of tires. I ran immediately, thinking I would be a first responder. When I got there, I saw a jacket that looked familiar and then I noticed that my son had been hit. My 7-year-old was laying there unconscious. 911 was called and he was rushed to the pediatric ICU. This whole ordeal, was also happening during a snow storm. My family and I ended up being snowed in at the hospital together. I remember watching the resilience of the nurses and the doctors. The rehab staff, the OT’s/PT’s and the nursing assistants, were so gracious. Those nurses were also snowed in and they couldn't even get off of work. It was just ridiculous. They stayed overnight and worked around the clock. Thankfully, today my son is a thriving 17-year-old. (He’s also a student at NHCC and he's doing very well). But at the time, the event was really powerful for me, to see the whole process as a parent. The experience was pivotal, as I thought about a career transition. Back then, I was working in an early education field, but I also had my nursing assistant's certification. This experience motivated me and in 2011, I became an orthopedic nursing assistant. I was working in the ortho unit and my manager told me, “you really need to become a nurse.” So, I went back to school and became a nurse!
When did you attend NHCC?
I was doing prerequisites at NHCC in 2008, little by little. Early on, I was studying sign language, but when my son had his accident, that’s when I dived into nursing. In 2015 I got into the nursing program and in 2017 I graduated. At North Hennepin, I also got to study abroad in China, through the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society. That was a really cool opportunity and I got to view nursing in such an amazing way. In the end, I got two degrees from North Hennepin, ASL Sign Language, as well as Nursing. I graduated with highest honors and I was the commencement speaker.
How was your experience being a student at North Hennepin?
Going to North Hennepin was a transition for me. I was an unconventional student, I had four children, a husband and it wasn’t my first moment in college. I was trying to jump in again and at one point, I felt things getting harder and harder. Good thing I was in the night program for the nursing program! The night program was neat, because it allowed for working adults like me and people with families to be able to go to school and still continue their daily lives. In my nursing classes, there were traditional students and also working parents. I loved the community at NHCC, especially in the nursing program and in my ASL courses. We were very tight-knit, there was a bond within these groups and such wonderful relationships were built. In the nursing community, you’re dealing with blood, sweat, and tears. It was no joke. As we went along, things got easier but it was really a grind. You depended on your colleagues and fellow students. I also really depended on mentors, Access Services and wonderful teachers, like Deane Newborg. In my opinion, there's no way any one person by themselves can get through that rigorous program, it takes a team.
What’s the process like to get into NHCC’s nursing program?
Students take the TEAS test, (TEAS stands for Test of Essential Academic Skills) which calculates your score and combination with your GPA and your prerequisites. You’ve gotta have all those ducks in a row and formulate a good score and then you apply. It's a rigorous program and is quite competitive to get into. Many students have to apply a few times. The first time I applied, I didn't get in. Prospective students should know, you don't have to have straight A's. I think that's a misconception but you do need high marks. If you are someone that tests well, you could have mostly Bs. A high enough TEAS score, could offset your GPA. Some people have a really high GPA, but they don’t test well. If you have a lesser GPA, a higher test score will help you. Sometimes, people have high test scores and high GPA’s! You’re all on the playing field.
As an adult student, how did you discover that you had ADHD?
When I started studying nursing I was doing just fine at school, but at home, I noticed my daughter was struggling. I went with her to be seen by a behavioral specialist. I was listening as the doctor asked questions like, ‘Does she have trouble finding her homework? Does she often set things down and can't find them later?’ The whole time I was thinking, ‘Okay, wait a minute, I thought that was normal.’ The doctor diagnosed my daughter with ADHD and suggested, that I might want to get evaluated. During second semester I got situated, made myself an appointment and I was also diagnosed with ADHD. When I first found out, it was a little eye-opening, but it made sense when I researched it more. I know we’re all bright and I know that people with ADHD aren't dumb.
How did Access Services help you when you were a student at NHCC?
I had no idea Access Services existed, until my second semester of nursing school. Going back to school had its challenges and one day I noticed I couldn’t see very well. My tests were online, they weren’t on paper, so I struggled with that. I also struggled to stay organized. You need to be very organized in nursing school. It was tough, but Access Services changed the game for me. During my first visit, I walked in with my head hung extremely low, and I walked out of the office changed. I held my head high and it was life-changing to know there was support for me. I learned that, as a person with ADHD I could be looked at as a hero, or as a person with superpowers. Tom Lynch thanked me for sharing my diagnosis with him. He said, ‘Civilization wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for people like you, or people who think like you.’ He explained how people with ADHD often think outside of the box and are very prepared people. What I thought was a disability, could actually be an ability that other people don't have. I figured out how I could work within the realm of my ADHD to do great things. People might look down on you and make you feel like you don’t fit the mold. Well, guess what? You’re not supposed to fit in the mold, you’re supposed to break the mold! You’re supposed to do things differently, because you’re here to impact society in a brighter way. Finding support gave me clarity and I wanted to find other ways I could be successful.
What did you do after you graduated from NHCC?
I went to Metro State University and I graduated summa cum laude, with a bachelor’s degree in nursing. After graduation, I continued at Methodist Hospital as a nurse in the orthopedic unit for a couple of years. When the pandemic hit, I jumped into the ICU. I had been itching for something different, but it was hard. I'm pretty loyal and I like to stay in one place, but I'd been in ortho for almost 10 years and it was time.
How do you manage being a nurse, a wife, and a mother all at the same time?
It's my superpower, I guess. I have a lot of energy and I just go! It is great to be working in the middle of a pandemic, but it is a lot. My faith keeps me going and that’s helpful. Being around my children and husband gives me strength. My husband is such a rock. There's no way I would have gotten through nursing school without him. He was basically a single father that whole time. He did the laundry, the parent-teacher conferences, all of it. We’re a team as we raise our children, work in youth ministry and when we're standing for social justice. I may be working on the frontlines as a nurse, or in the community helping fight social justice issues, but he's still right there. You need support in your corner. I don't do it alone, I really don't.
What's next for you, are there any goals you’re working towards?
I've been doing a lot in the community. I volunteer quite often. The health care disparities are just unreal when looking at the gap for minorities. One of the biggest things I've noticed in the community, is when I see children of color stare at me. I know what they're thinking when they stare at me. They're so surprised and shocked to see someone of color as a professional. It's important to be visible, because they want to be what they see. They look at who has skin like me and what are they doing? I don't remember going to the doctor's office growing up and seeing a doctor, or a nurse with brown skin like mine. During the civil unrest in Minneapolis, people needed help and I went to volunteer as a licensed nurse. There's a medical tent in the middle of the street and one day I met a little girl. She was with her mom and she was staring at the stethoscope around my neck. She looked at me and asked, "Are you a doctor?" I stooped down to her level and I said "Oh no sweetie, I'm not a doctor. I'm a nurse." Then I turned back around and said, "You know what? But if you want to be a doctor, I believe you can. If you want to go to school and do something like that, I am rooting for you, because I believe that you can do anything." I think we need to hear that. How else will you know that you have that possibility, that capability? Maybe that's why it took me so many years to figure out that I actually could become a nurse, because I didn't see it as an option before. I continue to wear my stethoscope around my neck and everyone looking at me knows. Even in the winter time. I'm out there, with my jacket and my stethoscope. Maybe young adults, or older adults in the community are thinking about going back to school. If they see me, they could say, "Okay, seeing is believing and if she can do it, I can do it." That's the message I use to encourage people of color. We need more people in the health care system. We need more people of color to help break down the structural issues in health care that cause racial disparities. People come into the hospital with such fear in their eyes. There’s a lack of trust amongst people of color and the medical field. I didn't see it at first. But when I volunteered, I was the only black nurse and I knew that was powerful. There are people out there who feel like the system isn’t protecting them. I apologize to them and say, "Hey, I'm sorry our health care system has failed people of color. I'm sorry that our health care system has not been culturally sensitive. How can I help bridge that gap?" I’m here to change the narrative.
Is there anything else you'd like to add?
If anyone ever has doubts on whether they should go into nursing, I suggest they just do it. It's hard, it's not easy, but yes, you can do it. They need to have a good support system and a mentor. Keep your circle small, keep your study groups small and stay focused. As you grow and get your degree, whatever skillset you graduate with, give back. No matter what. Give back to the people that raised you. Give back to the places that formed you, who caused you to be who you are. Everyone’s communities look different, but everyone can reach someone different. Work together. I always say, I’m just a small drop of water in a vast ocean. But if all of our little drops come together, we can really make waves. You can do it. I did it, raising four children, going to school full-time and working. It can be done. Don't give up, keep going!