It took almost a full year for Katie Ikenberry to work up the courage to resign from her job as a corporate paralegal within a major health system and begin her journey toward a career in nursing. This spring, her dream will reach a critical milestone as her Bachelor of Science in Nursing (B.S.N.), earned at Radford University Carilion (RUC), is conferred at commencement.
“In the five years that I worked as a corporate paralegal, I had the opportunity to interact with physicians, nurses and nurse practitioners on a variety of projects,” Ikenberry said in discussing her time out in the so-called “real world.” “I began to see how their positions allowed them to make a difference and help people in a way that I couldn’t sitting behind a computer.” She felt a sense of longing for that same opportunity for impact that she witnessed between health care practitioners and patients.
Ikenberry believes that to live the life you want, you have to be honest with yourself about what you want, stop comparing yourself to others and take the initiative to make a change. She responded with honesty in her desire to pursue nursing and took the initiative to step out with courage and ensure her career journey was one she would be proud of.
“I know that perspective is what has helped me be successful during this journey,” she said. “I can honestly say that I am now living the life I envisioned for myself and have no regrets.”
Ikenberry chose RUC for her education based, in part, on the positive experience her sister Ashlie had there, when it was Jefferson College of Health Sciences, prior to its merger into Radford University.
“Ashlie graduated from the Associate of Applied Science in Nursing program in 2005, the B.S.N. program in 2010 and the Master of Science in Nursing program in 2017,” Ikenberry recounted. “So I was really familiar with the school already.”
In addition, Ikenberry said, RNC’s location was important, since her entire family lives in the area. She knew she would need a support system to help her through the many challenges going back to school in general and nursing school in particular presented.
“You can respond negatively or find the positives in any situation,” she said, “but that positive focus can help you overcome anything in the long run.” With that approach and mindset, Ikenberry has navigated her educational experience, seeking guidance and inspiration from others along the way.
Ikenberry has become especially close to Deidra Pennington, M.S.N., RN, an assistant professor in the School of Nursing and the Faculty Advisor of the Student Nurse Organization (SNO).
“I look to her as a mentor, because she embodies qualities that I admire and respect in a nurse, leader and role model,” Ikenberry said. “Having the privilege to learn from and get to know her as a person has made a huge difference in my senior year. Mrs. Pennington doesn’t know this, but I definitely credit her for the nurse I am becoming.”
She said that Pennington has been especially helpful to her when she was struggling with a decision.
“She will say, ‘What does your heart tell you to do?’ and that helps me put things into perspective,” Ikenberry said. “But it’s not just the advice she gives. It’s also the example she sets. Mrs. Pennington is incredibly intelligent and well-respected. She has many wonderful qualities, but one of her best traits is that she genuinely cares about her students and wants them to succeed, not only in school, but also as nurses.”
In addition to her coursework at RUC, Katie has worked in healthcare during her time as a student, spending two years as a medical scribe in the Emergency Department at Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital (CRMH). She also worked in the summer of 2019 as part of the Carilion Clinic Adopt-A-Student Nurse Program. She currently works as a clinical associate in the Progressive Care Unit at CRMH, which provides her with firsthand experience with cardiac care. She has multiple roles and areas of responsibility she must balance, but through it, she finds enrichment, excitement and fulfillment.
“These experiences expose me to a wide variety of patients, and they are certainly never boring,” Ikenberry said. “I’m hoping that within the next few months, I’ll be closer to narrowing down the area that will be the best fit for me when I graduate and decide which specialty I want to work in.”
In addition to everything else she does, Ikenberry has taken on a leadership role as the president of the SNO, which she accepted with enthusiasm.
“It’s important to me as president to make sure members have opportunities to be in the community and interact with individuals outside of the walls of the hospital,”she said. “We spend so much of our time in the hospital during clinical rotations that it is a refreshing change to get out in the community and utilize a different skill set to contribute to the area and population we serve while attending school. I believe that getting to know the community where you practice helps to put things into perspective when you’re caring for people inside the hospital.”
As SNO president, Ikenberry has led free blood pressure clinics; the Roanoke Area Youth Substance Abuse Coalition Prescription Drug Take Back Day and a drive to collect items for donation to the Samaritan Inn Day Shelter, which provides services to the homeless in the Roanoke area..
This spring she will represent be representing RUC and the School of Nursing at the National Convention in Orlando, Fla.
At the convention, “I will be editing and rewriting resolutions submitted by student nurses,” Ikenberry said. “The resolutions are typically geared towards a specific nursing issue that these students feel deserves recognition. My job is to consult with the authors of the resolutions and assist them in the revision process to ensure workable implementation of the resolution prior to being presented to the House of Delegates at the National Convention.”
Ikenberry said that before nursing school, she never saw herself as a leader. “During my junior year,” Katie remembers, “one of my professors said, ‘you’re a natural leader,’ and I started to believe that and see it in myself.”
Through her journey as part of the Highlander family, Ikenberry has demonstrated how being responsive, resilient and real contribute to an education, career and life that is rich in meaning and poised for incredible impact.
— Written by Mark Lambert
“Responsive. Resilient. Real.” is an online story series published by Radford University. The ongoing series celebrates the Highlander spirit of students, faculty, staff and alumni by sharing their unique stories and their strong sense of Highlander pride.