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Cherri JohnsonCherri Johnson ’22, Bachelor of Science in Nursing, works as a public health nurse with the Vanderburgh County Health Department. She first enrolled at USI as a non-traditional student in 2004. “I distinctly remember one of my instructors remarking that she had been a non-traditional student, and she told me not to give up, even if it takes me 20 years,” she says. “Today, I often think back to that conversation and laugh, since it nearly took that long to complete this journey into nursing.”

Along the way, Johnson has had many hardships and setbacks, but she says these experiences helped her build resilience and realize her goals and dreams. Recently, she was part of a group presentation on infant mortality at an Evansville Rotary Club meeting. “We are working to raise awareness about infant mortality in Vanderburgh County with a focus on the 47713 ZIP code,” she says. “Being a nurse means that I have the opportunity and the responsibility to serve others and improve the health and well-being of my community.”

Q&A with Cherri Johnson

Where are you from and why did you choose to attend USI? I am from Indianapolis, Indiana. Some of the best nurses I know went to USI, and I had heard great things about the program. After completing the program, I know I made the right choice. This program changed my life. I respect the nurses who saw fit to return and teach after working in the field. I plan to be among them someday to give back and create more opportunities for students to become nurses.

Describe your educational experience. I wanted to get into the nursing program when I first came to USI, but it was so competitive. When I learned about the prerequisites, I thought there was no way I would ever make it in. I withdrew from USI for a time due to family obligations. I became a registered medical assistant in the interim, but the dream of becoming a nurse never left my mind. In 2017, I returned to USI to get accepted into the nursing program. In 2019, I achieved that goal. In spite of the time it has taken me to obtain my degree in nursing, there is not much I would change. The time it took allowed me to mature and grow in ways that work together to make me the person and nurse I am today.

Who inspired you to become a nurse? My youngest sister was in an accident as a very young child, and she suffered a traumatic brain injury. Watching my sister suffer through all that she endured and not knowing how to help her was very painful. When she passed away, I wanted to honor her memory by becoming a nurse to help other families with similar experiences.

Is working as a public health nurse the first job you have had since graduating from USI? Yes. I was fortunate enough to complete my leadership clinical with the Vanderburgh County Health Department, where I had an opportunity to shadow a nurse with Pre-3. It felt like home to me; I knew immediately that this was where I wanted to be and that I would accept if offered a position there. As luck would have it, I was offered a position with Pre-3 before graduation, and I accepted. I can’t think of a more fulfilling, enriching job. I love what I do!

Briefly describe your job responsibilities at the Vanderburgh County Health Department. I work with my team to provide nurse support (weight checks, BP checks, EDS follow-ups). I am a certified lactation counselor and educate clients about breastfeeding and completing postpartum, prenatal and child status visits. I conduct weekly case management meetings with community health workers and complete chart reviews for my team. I am also a CPR instructor and assist with recertifications for our staff. Recently, I gave a presentation on infant mortality at the Evansville Rotary Club with Lynn Herr of the Vanderburgh County Health Department and Arlinda Payne of Black Nurses of Evansville.

In your own words, what does it mean to you to be a nurse? Being a nurse means that I have the opportunity and the responsibility to serve others and improve the health and well-being of my community. Being a nurse means you are an advocate, protector and teacher. I believe nurses are innovative; we make one when we can’t find a way.

What advice or words of wisdom do you have for future nurses? Stay open to opportunities and possibilities and embrace all that comes with this experience. Nursing school was one of the most challenging things I have ever been through, but I learned much more than I ever thought I could. When I started nursing school, I never dreamed I would work in public health. Today, I can’t imagine doing anything else. You never know where this journey will lead you, but if you stay open to learning, you might be surprised where you end up.

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