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UW-Eau Claire nursing program in Marshfield serves as special legacy for western Wisconsin family

| Judy Berthiaume (story); Jesse Yang (video)

As a student in UW-Eau Claire’s nursing program in Marshfield, Katherine Griesbach’s days often are spent juggling homework, clinicals and other demands that are typical for nursing students.

Despite her busy days, there is one thing the Blugold never has to worry about: lunch.

After all, Katherine’s grandmother is one of her nursing instructors and her mom works nearby in the Marshfield Medical Center, home to UW-Eau Claire’s nursing program in Marshfield.

“It’s really amazing to have all three of us here,” says Katherine’s mother, Stacie Jacobs, a 2019 UW-Eau Claire graduate who now is a nurse at the Marshfield Medical Center. “I joke with my mom about which of us is going more broke buying lunch now that Katherine is here.”

When she transferred to UW-Eau Claire last fall, Katherine became the third generation in her family to join the university’s nursing program in Marshfield.

Katherine’s grandmother (aka: Stacie’s mother), Vickkie Zietlow, is a clinical instructor in UW-Eau Claire’s nursing program at the Marshfield site. This semester, she’s also one of Katherine’s instructors.

Vickkie became the first in her family to join UW-Eau Claire’s nursing program when she accepted an invitation eight years ago to be a clinical instructor at the Marshfield site.

Several years later, Stacie, who had long worked as a certified nursing assistant and in hospice home care, decided it was time to pursue her bachelor’s degree, enrolling in and then graduating from UW-Eau Claire’s nursing program, also in Marshfield.

Last fall, Katherine realized she, too, wants a career in nursing, so she changed majors and transferred to UW-Eau Claire. She’s now a junior studying nursing in UW-Eau Claire’s program in Marshfield.

“I’ve watched my mom and grandmother care for people my whole life,” Katherine says. “I know what they do is special. I want to make that kind of impact, too.”

Just knowing that her daughter and granddaughter are following her into the nursing profession is special, Vickkie says.

However, knowing that they both want to earn their nursing degrees from UW-Eau Claire’s program in Marshfield, where she teaches, makes it even better, she says.

“I’m so proud of our program so it’s a blessing and an honor to have both my daughter and granddaughter be part of it,” Vickkie says. “Having these two here has made it even more special for me.”

In the Marshfield program, nursing faculty, including Vickkie, teach some classes on the Marshfield campus and other courses from UW-Eau Claire classrooms via interactive distance education technology. Students complete their clinicals and other real-world learning experiences at the Marshfield Medical Center.

The program meets the needs of students like Stacie and Katherine, who want to pursue their bachelor’s degrees in nursing but don’t want to relocate to Eau Claire.

It also helps meet the needs of health care organizations in central Wisconsin because graduates from the Marshfield program often opt — like Stacie — to work as a nurse in that region.

Having the opportunity to study and then work close to her home in central Wisconsin made it possible for her to pursue her dream of being a professional nurse, says Stacie, noting that she waited to begin her studies until her three children were older.

As a nontraditional student, being in a familiar setting also gave her confidence as she went from being a nursing student to a professional nurse, she says.

“Having the campus and everything right here made my transition from student nurse to intern nurse to professional nurse so much more comfortable,” Stacie says. “Having my internship and clinical experience on the same floor where I now work as a professional nurse helped me feel at home from the first day.”

It was rewarding to have a front-row seat as Stacie worked her way through the nursing program, Vickkie says, adding that she had her daughter in class, though another faculty member graded her work.

“I’ve always been proud to be a nurse, but my pride in being part of the nursing profession grew even greater when Stacie earned her own bachelor’s degree in nursing,” says Vickkie, who has worked as a nurse for 33 years. “She’s an amazing person and an amazing nurse who will impact so many lives.”

When Katherine transferred to UW-Eau Claire to pursue her nursing degree, Vickkie was thrilled that yet another family member chose nursing as their profession.

“Katherine already has blossomed,” Vickkie says of her granddaughter. “I’m seeing such a beautiful side of her. To watch her go through this program is going to be a joy.”

While Vickkie, Stacie and Katherine all are pursuing careers in nursing, they each are following their own path within the field.

Vickkie worked for many years in a variety of health care settings in communities of all sizes. Now, she says, teaching the next generation of nurses is the right fit for her.

For Stacie, it was watching several loved ones deal with cancer, that put her on her current career path. She saw the impact their nurses had on their care, and she knew she wanted to be a nurse in oncology.

Katherine’s little brother helped her find her niche. Born prematurely, her brother spent time in the neonatal intensive care unit with a team of nurses caring for him. Seeing what a difference the nurses made, she decided she wants to work in that same setting after she earns her nursing degree.

“That’s the neat thing about nursing,” Vickkie says. “We all have the same degree, but we can pursue our passions in our own way and be where we want to be.

“Seeing my daughter and granddaughter make their dreams come true is amazing. They’re carrying their passion into their own careers and making their own way, which is pretty special.”

Vickkie says she often tells her students that it is an honor to be a nurse. She feels fortunate, she says, to be helping to teach the next generation of nursing professionals.

However, nothing compares to knowing that her daughter and now granddaughter are following in her footsteps, Vickkie says.

“What better legacy can I leave than to have my daughter and granddaughter as nurses,” Vickkie says. “When I’m not here anymore, it’s going to be awesome to leave that legacy.”

She’s also proud to be part of a prestigious nursing program that is preparing Blugolds, including her daughter and granddaughter, to make an impact on others.

“It’s difficult to become a nurse,” Vickkie says. “But if you graduate from UW-Eau Claire, you’ve graduated from the best.”