The Maneater

MU doctoral nursing student is first to become fellow of national academy before graduating

Sharon Van Wicklin has worked in perioperative nursing for 40 years and has been inducted to the American Academy of Nursing.

Doctoral nursing student Sharon Van Wicklin knew she would become a nurse when she was in high school at the end of 1960s. She was a candy striper at the Adventist Hospital in Simi Valley, California, where she spent a couple days a week performing small tasks for patients, wearing the quintessential red pinstripe dress. It may not have been much, but for Van Wicklin, it was just the beginning.

Van Wicklin was inducted to the American Academy of Nursing at its fall meeting from Oct. 5-7 in Washington, D.C. She is the first Sinclair School of Nursing student to become a fellow while still attending MU.

“It was pretty exciting, and I think it still hasn’t sunk in,” Van Wicklin said. “It feels like quite an honor. When you look at the people who are already members, it’s very humbling.”

Currently, Van Wicklin is working on her doctoral degree at MU and said she chose the school because of its faculty, which includes some of the instructors she looks up to now.

“I just read the profiles of the faculty and I just felt an affinity with them. I don’t know why,” Van Wicklin said. “When I called them to get a feel for the program, they were very helpful and very knowledgeable and I felt like it was the right fit for me.”

The AAN is made up of nursing’s most accomplished leaders, according to its website, and its over 2,500 fellows include names such as Martha Hill, former dean of Johns Hopkins School of Nursing, and Ann Burgess, who pioneered the treatment of victims of sexual violence and trauma internationally.

Van Wicklin has worked in the field for over 40 years as a perioperative nurse, who monitors a surgical patient during and around their operation.

“I loved it immediately,” Van Wicklin said, “It’s exciting. There’s always something new and in the [operating room] there’s a real team atmosphere; you have to depend on each other.”

Working at different types of medical institutions across the country, Van Wicklin has explored many areas of her field including general, plastic, ophthalmic and neurological surgery.

“I think, like anything, as you grow into a profession you really begin to understand it more and learn more about it,” Van Wicklin said. “That’s when you really find what you love and what you don't.”

Van Wicklin worked at the Williamson Medical Center for 20 years as an operating room nurse and perioperative education coordinator. She also has worked for the Association of periOperative Registered Nurses, writing guidelines for practice for perioperative nurses.

“Writing practice guidelines makes you feel like you’re able to shape policy, like you’re really making a difference in the profession,” Van Wicklin said.

Patricia Seifert, former president of AORN, was one of Van Wicklin’s sponsors to become a fellow of the academy. Van Wicklin also helped to edit some of the papers Seifert wrote during that time.

“She has an incredible work ethic, she’s candid and she’s good at what she does,” Seifert said. “I’m very, very proud of her and I have a great personal fondness and professional respect for her.”

Van Wicklin has also worked on the standards committees for the American Association of Tissue Banks, the International Society for Plastic and Aesthetic Nurses and the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation.

Since she became a registered nurse in 1974, Van Wicklin has seen a great deal of change in the field and the perception of nursing.

“When I started in nursing, when a doctor walked into the room, we got up and give him our seat and got him coffee; we obviously don’t do that anymore,” Van Wicklin said. “I think [people] have come to recognize that we are a distinct profession. We’re not the physician’s handmaiden.”

Van Wicklin received her associate degree from Ventura College in California, and both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in nursing at Middle Tennessee State University. She is also a member of the Sigma Theta Tau Honor Society of Nursing and Phi Kappa Phi.

Now a wife of 44 years, grandmother of five and pianist at her church, her love for nursing that began when she was a teenager still grows today.

“I love that nursing is an art, as well as a science,” Van Wicklin said. “I love the interaction with patients. I love the feeling that we have a body of knowledge that’s different from medicine and that we are autonomous professionals.”

Edited by Olivia Garrett | ogarrett@themaneater.com

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