Katelyn Walker (right), a 2019 UT Martin nursing graduate, is pictured on the campus quadrangle with her daughter, Isabella. Photo courtesy of Heidi Lipford Photography.

Baby girl inspires mother to finish degree

An unexpected pregnancy threw Katelyn Walker into a tailspin, but the little girl who followed has made all the difference.

“It wasn’t really about being pregnant, but I have a real problem with control and planning,” said Walker, who was a second-year nursing student when she discovered she was going to be a mother. “I had this 20-year plan for my life, and that didn’t happen. I was freaking out about that, but I don’t see a better way it could have worked out. She has been my motivation to finish school.”

Walker, a graduate of Westview High School, took the Florence Nightingale Pledge during the Department of Nursing pinning ceremony May 3 before receiving her Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree May 4. Her daughter, Isabella, and husband, Hunter, were in the audience to cheer her on, just as they have for the past year and a half since Isabella’s arrival.

“Hunter has been so supportive. He’ll probably be more glad for me to graduate than I am. There have been some nights when I’ve been at the library until midnight, one o’clock in the morning, and he’s done everything (with Isabella),” Walker said. “They’re the reason I’m able to do this.”

“I think, school-wise, my time-management is better because it has to be. I think before I had her, I could put things off, … but now you have to get everything done during naptime and while she’s asleep,” she added. “When I came back to school, she was five weeks old, and I felt out of place in college. … But I think the beautiful thing about this campus and the class sizes is that you get close with your professors; you get close with your classmates. That (feeling) lasted about three weeks, and then they would invite me to all the things they would have invited me to before, and I just brought her with me. … It’s made me more motivated to finish and to do my best and not just pass the classes.”

Walker says the support of the UT Martin nursing faculty and staff, as well as her classmates, played a major role in her ability to finish her degree. She was allowed to take breaks from class and clinicals to pump breastmilk for her infant daughter and often brought Isabella to study sessions and other activities outside of class time.

“It wasn’t special treatment; it was just that they cared,” she said. Several other members of the 2019 nursing class have children as well, and the group bonded quickly.

With diploma in hand, Walker is preparing to begin a nurse residency program at Jackson-Madison County General Hospital this summer with the goal to land in the oncology and hospice department – an area close to her heart.

“In the residency program, you get to rotate through your top picks. I picked emergency, postpartum, and oncology and hospice. Oncology and hospice is really where my heart is, and so I hope I get a job there,” she said. “Both my great-grandparents were in hospice, and I know the difference it makes to have a good hospice nurse. … It’s not so much about skills and getting stuff done in a timely manner; it’s more about making that patient’s transition as smooth as possible. It’s about keeping the patient comfortable and supporting the family. You get to know the families (better).”

Walker knows the UT Martin nursing program has prepared her to excel in whatever area she may ultimately call her own. She also acknowledges that she does not and could not ever know everything about the nursing field, and she feels this humility is encouraged by program instructors.

“It’s a very hard program, but in clinical we work with (students from) other schools. … I feel like I know more than the other nursing school (students), and I feel like I’m more willing to admit what I don’t know. Our instructors don’t penalize you for not knowing something, and I think that’s prepared me more than anything to go into a clinical setting,” said Walker. She knows an inability to admit confusion can be fatal in her profession, and she isn’t willing to let her own ego get in the way of a patient’s care.

Ultimately, Walker’s focus always comes back to Isabella, the baby she didn’t plan.

“I think what I’ve gained the most from this, and what I hope that she knows (one day), is that life 100 percent doesn’t go as planned. But it works out anyway. You can do what you want to do, regardless of how your plans get mixed up in the middle of it,” she said. “When I first got pregnant, I thought I would never finish my college career. But that hasn’t been true. I think I’m finishing it stronger now than I would have before because I want to – for her. I want her to know that she can do anything she puts her mind to (do).”


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