Junior offensive lineman Nicholas Nelson wore “Augie blue” scrubs. The color was no different from his jersey in football, but it signaled an entirely different meaning about the wearer.
On the field, Nelson’s color represents a warrior: the blue protects his quarterback and running back, as Nelson does anything to keep them safe. In the hospital, this same color no longer signals such forceful protection. When Nelson wears blue in the hospital, he is a care provider and a beacon of hope to those in need. This day would be no different.
He entered the pediatrics floor of the Sanford hospital unsure of his assignment or who his patients would be, typical for a day of clinicals. He would spend the remainder of the day helping a two-month-old baby diagnosed with failure to thrive, which occurs when a child is behind on the growth curve and typically underweight.
The ferocity of the offensive lineman quickly shifted to the tenderness of a nurse with a loving heart. He held the fussing baby, trying to soothe her. In that moment, she was the only thing that mattered. In that moment, she was his quarterback, and he would do anything in his power to protect her.
“I sat with the baby and fed her and held her until she fell asleep in my arms,” Nelson said. “It was the best feeling. It gave me a lot of joy to help that baby, and it’s something I truly won’t forget.”
Senior volleyball right-side hitter Kia Kriener is no different. She celebrated 16 kills against Winona State University just as easily as she shared a patient’s excitement after they received a new working kidney.
“I’m with this patient who has been on dialysis for years, and now she doesn’t have to do that anymore because she got this transplant,” Kriener said. “Seeing how the nurses kind of sat with her excitement and encouraged that and were really happy with her was something I wasn’t expecting but that I’ve found so much in the nursing world.”
Aside from the rewarding moments, Kriener, Nelson and their fellow nursing student-athletes find themselves constantly under pressure, having to balance practices, lifts and games with extensive course loads and clinicals.
To be a nursing major at Augustana, a student must complete 83 credit hours in four years. That is one of the largest credit requirements of any major at the school, but it is nothing compared to the number of clinical hours a student must attend. To become a registered nurse with a bachelor’s degree in the science of nursing, the South Dakota Board of Nursing requires students to partake in 640 clinical hours.
Students cannot complete their clinical hours until they are a junior and are officially admitted to the Augustana School of Nursing. During clinical hours, students typically go to Avera or Sanford facilities for 10 hours a week on Tuesdays or Thursdays — or sometimes both — from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. or 4 p.m.
Combining the stressors of a nursing major with a sport demands more than 40 hours or labor per week.
With such complex schedules, nursing student-athletes are generally accustomed to scheduling issues as well. However, the nursing program tries to be flexible with clinical hours and athletic schedules.
“Here at Augustana, we are committed to strong student-athletes and strong students in the classroom academically,” Mary Nelson, a nursing professor and registered nurse, said. “Wereally see them equally, and we are on board with supporting our athletes.”
Kriener said her volleyball coaches allowed her to be late to the team’s 3 p.m. practices on clinical days. She said her coaches understood these are student-athletes for whom academics come first and sports come second.
Scheduling conflicts are not always smoothly solved, though. Nicholas Nelson has had issues with football practices at times.
“But the professors and the nursing program as a whole have been really good to me,” Nicholas Nelson said. “I have not had any negative experiences with the professors or the nursing program.”