When both your parents are foreign language teachers, it’s not too hard to catch the travel bug. That’s exactly what happened to Kate Pace, whose parents both taught foreign language in central Iowa schools. By accompanying them on their trips with students, first as a student and then as a chaperone, she has been able to see a large part of the world.
“I’ve been fortunate to travel to England, France, Italy, Belgium, Puerto Vallarta, Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan and Cozumel,” says the BSN student at Mercy College of Health Sciences. “I’ve never had a fear of traveling and have always enjoyed learning about new cultures and new places.”
That love of travel and exploration led to a number of adventures after she graduated from The University of Iowa in 2002 with a degree in recreational therapy. She set off with a packed car to Philadelphia, where she worked as an intern at a rehabilitation hospital. Next, she headed to a full-time job in Michigan working at a nursing home.
During that time, she visited a friend from high school who was living in Florida and while reading the paper, happened to see a “help wanted” ad for a hospital recreational therapist.
“I thought I’d just interview for the position to get some practice, but I ended up getting the job and relocating,” she says. That chance encounter led to about 10 years in Florida, where she worked in three hospitals, including two adolescent psychiatric behavioral hospitals.
“I got punched, spit on, and called names, but I kept going back and absolutely fell in love with the job, the other staff, and the kids,” she says.
As the head of recreational therapy (TR) during at both psychiatric hospitals, she was responsible for conducting training and supervising staff. Eventually she realized that her career in TR was limited because of the way hospitals are structured.
“The contrast with a nursing degree is incredible,” she says. “Once you have a BSN, literally the whole world opens up to you and you can do so many different things with it, from hospital nursing to community health to home health to travel nursing, and so much more.”
After some health issues led her to move back to Iowa (she’s fine now), Kate decided nursing school was the logical next step in her career, and Mercy College was the place to do it. She started in August 2014, and is on track to graduate in August 2016.
“I live with my parents and that has been a real blessing,” she says. “Nursing school is really demanding, and it’s great to have that support network.”
She says several of her professors at Mercy have been “absolute gems,” including Nadira Dhanaswar, Brandi Tomlinson and Rebecca Orvella, and names Associate Professor Dawn Bowker as her chief inspiration.
“Dawn is just phenomenal,” Kate says. “She taught the first five weeks of my philosophy and theory class, and I knew immediately she was someone I wanted to work with. I went up after that very first class to talk to her and get to know her better.”
Kate credits Dawn with encouraging her to explore opportunities outside the classroom, including serving as a mentorship officer in MCANS (Mercy College Association of Nursing Students) and as treasurer for the Iowa Association of Nursing Students.
“She has made such an impact on nursing, both with students and with the law, and she’s so humble,” Kate says.
Kate was so inspired by Dawn’s example that she paid her own way on a trip to Pine Ridge Reservation with Dawn and others, where she witnessed a degree of poverty and other social injustices she had never before seen.
“There are so many people who want to help, but don’t take the time to get to know the residents, their needs, and their culture—it was a real eye-opener,” she says. One example: A donation of washers and dryers that sit unused, because the residents lack running water and electricity. Says Kate, “It was truly a life-changing experience and made me realize that before trying to help anyone, I need to ask them about their needs and gain that understanding. Giving is not about what you get back from it—it’s about making that connection with another person.”
Asked about Kate, Dawn Bowker has just as many compliments for her student. “She is amazing! It has been my pleasure to work with Kate in MCANS and in the classroom. Kate has a very bright future ahead of her. She is motivated, goes above and beyond, and is a mover and a shaker. As a nurse, she will be fun to watch and a great colleague to have!”
This semester, Kate is especially excited about a unique pilot initiative between the Red Cross and Mercy College, which is enabling her and other Mercy students to earn Disaster Prepared Nurse Training certification. They will be the only 42 nursing students in the U.S. to have this certification in addition to a nursing degree.
The initiative, dubbed the Pillowcase Project, teaches students in grades 3-5 about personal and family preparedness, local hazards, and basic coping skills. Kate and other Mercy College students will be trained by the Red Cross, then share their knowledge with local elementary students. Upon completion of the program, each elementary student will receive a sturdy pillowcase and be encouraged to build a personal emergency security supply kit. Visit the Red Cross Pillowcase Project web page for more information.
While Kate is still mulling her career plans after graduation, she’s hoping to transition into travel nursing as soon as she’s able (most companies require a certain amount of nursing experience first).
“I would love to explore, travel, meet new people and see more of the country—I haven’t spent much time at all on the West Coast,” says this indefatigable woman. Wherever she lands, she is prepared to make a difference in her patients’ lives.