Two nursing majors say that not even a worldwide pandemic will keep them from celebrating together when they graduate from UW-Eau Claire this month.
Blugolds violating social distancing guidelines? Of course not.
Try twin sisters — Brooke and Chelsea Scholbe — celebrating their UW-Eau Claire graduations with their family in Muskego, where they have been living since their classes moved online earlier this semester because of COVID-19.
“These last weeks finishing out the semester together have been tough, but we have been able to conquer a lot of the challenges and navigate through all of the hardships side by side,” Brooke says of she and her twin sister. “We will still celebrate our achievements and graduation, even if we are not on campus walking across the stage May 23.”
While their final months of college have been unexpectedly challenging because of COVID-19, the two soon-to-be college graduates are excited to begin their careers in health care knowing that nurses are needed now more than ever.
Brooke and Chelsea, self-described lifelong best friends, both have long dreamed of working in the health care field, specifically in nursing.
The draw, they say, is knowing that as nurses they will make a difference in the lives of others.
“I have a strong passion for people, and I enjoy the privilege associated with a nurse’s significant role in health care,” Chelsea says, adding that her time as a student nurse has her more convinced than ever that nursing is the right career for her.
While neither of the Scholbe sisters are surprised that they both are earning nursing degrees, both are surprised to find themselves graduating together.
Despite their close relationship and shared interest in nursing, when it came time to choose a college, the siblings planned to go their separate ways. They wanted to experience life without each other and be their own person, Chelsea says.
Those plans fell by the wayside once they toured UW-Eau Claire.
UW-Eau Claire’s outstanding nursing program and beautiful campus won them both over, so they both became Blugolds. Four years later, they say they would not have wanted it any other way.
Once they were on campus, their academics aligned even more closely when Chelsea and Brooke were both accepted into UW-Eau Claire’s highly competitive nursing program the same semester, putting them on the same path toward graduation.
“Completing nursing school with my lifelong best friend is one of the best things about my college career,” Chelsea says of graduating with her twin sister. “We understood things in different ways and were able to help each other out constantly. There were topics that I would understand, and Brooke would not, or vice versa, and we could explain it to each other in the way that we knew the other would understand. She also was my constant support system.”
Brooke echoes those thoughts, adding that their learning styles are different but complement one another.
“Going through this major together has been an adventure, that’s for sure,” Brooke says. “Our brains are both suited for nursing, but we definitely have different ways of studying or learning just like every student. It’s been great and really helpful to have another person’s perspective, to have her next to me navigating through this major along with me.”
Having each other to lean on was especially helpful this spring as the pandemic upended their worlds, making for a stressful and chaotic few weeks leading up to their graduation.
Navigating these difficult weeks together has strengthened even more the already strong bonds they have with each other as well as with their fellow nursing students.
“I don’t think anyone could survive nursing school on their own,” Brooke says. “I believe I will have the friends I made in nursing school for life. We have been with one other through some of our worst points in the nursing student life as well as our best points, and that’s made our friendships strong.”
Managing the ups and downs of college while learning alongside other nursing students who have similar goals is inspiring, Chelsea says.
“Meeting so many other passionate individuals who want to care for people as much as I do was probably one of the coolest things about UW-Eau Claire,” Chelsea says. “The support system in the nursing school is incredible. We are all tackling nursing school together and we all want to make a difference.”
That support system also includes nursing faculty who have become mentors and friends as well as teachers, Brooke and Chelsea say.
Their professors expect a lot of their students, but they also teach, support and encourage them in ways that allow their students to exceed their high expectations, Brooke says.
“Our professors really care about us, not just as students but also as people,” Brooke says. “Together we laugh, we cry and we learn. They really want to see us develop and grow as nurses, as they know we are the future.”
This spring, as COVID-19 closed UW-Eau Claire’s physical campus, nursing faculty quickly found meaningful and creative ways to move their classes online, not an easy task since most of the nursing curriculum involves face-to-face learning, Brooke says.
“Nursing is definitely not a major you can fully experience online but our wonderful professors really do a great job in providing us with what we need to know when it comes to lectures, learning objectives and achieving those,” Brooke says.
In recent weeks, faculty have guided the nursing students through everything from navigating their new virtual classes to figuring out how COVID-19 might impact licensing, she says.
Faculty reach out constantly to make sure students are understanding the material, but also to see how they are doing mentally given the uncertainty around the pandemic, Brooke says.
“The nursing faculty are absolute rock stars,” Brooke says.
In addition to their classroom teaching, UW-Eau Claire nursing faculty also create multiple outside-the-classroom opportunities, experiences that helped her grow in ways that will make her a better nurse, Chelsea says.
Among the highlights of those experiences was working alongside nursing faculty on research, which she then presented at multiple conferences, Chelsea says. Being part of a faculty-student research team helped her gain important knowledge, skills and connections, she says.
“Another one of my favorite experiences was being a nurse intern at Marshfield Clinic Hospital in Eau Claire on the medical surgical unit,” Chelsea says. “There, I was able to connect the dots and make sense of a lot of the nursing skills and knowledge I was learning during school. I think it was one of my biggest and most impactful learning opportunities as a nursing student.”
Though they are graduating, Chelsea and Brooke soon will have one more important lesson to figure out together — learning how to live apart.
Beginning in June, for the first time ever, they will be living 900 miles apart.
Brooke will begin her career as a nurse in Milwaukee, while Chelsea accepted a nursing position in North Carolina.
“This will be the official first time in 22 years that Chelsea will not be a room, a walk or a drive away from me,” Brooke says.
Still, Chelsea and Brooke both are eager to begin their nursing careers, especially knowing that nurses are needed now more than ever because of COVID-19.
They are nervous knowing that nurses are on the frontlines treating patients with the coronavirus, but are confident they are ready to handle whatever comes their way.
“As nursing majors, we always hear that the first few years as a new graduate registered nurse are the toughest,” Chelsea says. “Throwing a global pandemic into the mix makes things even tougher. But this is what nursing is all about. Nursing is not easy. It will test your strength, allow you to appreciate the little things in life and open your heart to everyone around you.
“Nurses are there for patients no matter what the circumstances, and I am proud to be a part of that profession. Beginning my career in the middle of a medical crisis will be challenging but rewarding all at the same time.”
Brooke agrees, adding that she is ready to make the transition from student nurse to professional nurse even during an international health crisis.
“I feel like I have the ability to do something, to help others and this is what I am really passionate about,” Brooke says. “I am also a little scared as I will be a novice nurse and I have a feeling this transition to nursing will not be an easy one.
“However, I love this profession so much and I cannot wait to be out in the field giving my patients absolutely all the energy, time and support they deserve.”
Top photo caption: Twin sisters Chelsea (left) and Brooke Scholbe both will earn their nursing degrees this month.