Pursuing a rigorous degree like nursing is a very time-intensive challenge on its own, even without competing in a varsity-level sport. But here at UNC, three outstanding student athletes are following their dreams on the field and at the bedside.

Their stories prove that nothing is impossible. All it takes is a little grit—and some impressive time-management skills.

Meet the athletes:

Gillian LitynskiGill Litynski, ‘16 has already finished a major in global studies and is on track for a bachelor’s and doctoral degree in nursing through the Hillman Scholars Program in Nursing Innovation. An ACC champion and 2015 ACC Fencer of the Year for women’s sabre, she’s also a three-time All-ACC Academic athlete. (see Q&A)

Alex MooreAlex Moore, ‘17 transferred to UNC in 2014 to pursue a nursing degree while continuing her outstanding career on the lacrosse field. She dreams of becoming a nurse anesthetist. (see Q&A)

Tory KempTory Kemp, ‘17 is an All-ACC Academic track and field athlete ranking 3rd all-time in UNC’s history in the heptathlon. She hopes to use her nursing degree to serve women and children. (see Q&A)

Serving their teams—and their patients

Any student athlete faces high demands from practice, competition and academics. And any nursing student must juggle challenging coursework and energy-intensive clinical rotations. Put the two together and it adds up to a great deal of work—and tremendous rewards.

beverly_foster
Dr. Beverly Foster

“These are extraordinary students who have learned to handle a demanding training schedule for their sport and apply the same dedication to planning their clinical practice in nursing,” said Beverly Foster, Ph.D., R.N., associate professor and director of UNC’s undergraduate nursing program. “It is a delight to have them with us and to have them contribute to the diverse student body we so value.”

At first glance, athletics and nursing may seem to have little in common. But school administrators and students say many of the skills developed through athletics are valuable attributes for a successful nursing career.

“Development of leadership skills, self-discipline, motivation, persistence, attention to detail and skill mastery, team and collaborative behaviors—these are probably only a few of many similarities,” said Dr. Foster.

The School of Nursing at UNC-Chapel Hill is nationally recognized as one of the premiere nursing schools in the country, with a tri-fold mission of excellence in nursing education, research and practice. Although the degree requires an intense schedule of classes and clinical rotations, administrators have made a point of developing a scheduling system that is as student-friendly as possible.

“Student athletes must meet the same course and clinical requirements as all our nursing students, but there is flexibility for any of our students who have complex lives and responsibilities outside the School of Nursing, such as jobs, service clubs, children or aging parents,” said Dr. Foster.

We caught up with the three students to find out why they are pursuing nursing, why they stick with sports and how they balance it all. Read the conversations below.

All about the team perspective: A conversation with Gillian Litynski

Gillian Litynski
Gillian Litynski

Gill Litynski, captain of the UNC women’s fencing team, was named 2015 ACC Fencer of the Year for women’s sabre and won the ACC championship in her weapon. As if that weren’t impressive enough, she’s also a three-time All-ACC Academic athlete, an honor that requires a minimum 3.0 cumulative and last-semester grade-point average.

After finishing her global studies major in three years, Litynski matriculated to the nursing program in 2014. As a Hillman Scholar, she’ll graduate with a bachelor’s degree in nursing in 2016 and immediately begin a doctoral program in the UNC School of Nursing with a research focus on the global nursing workforce.

And, as a recent University Gazette article noted, she’s doing this extraordinary work in the context of the learning disorder dyslexia.

She competes at the World University Games in Gwangju, Korea on July 3-14, 2015.

The following is an edited interview.

Where does your passion for sports come from?

Litynski: It’s always something I’ve done for fun. Fencing is a really individualized and really fun sport. When you’re fencing, you’re on the strip, you’re on your own and it’s just between you and your opponent. You’re trying to outsmart them and outmaneuver them, and trick them into doing things they don’t want to be doing. And the fact that it’s something that’s good for you and fun—I’ve just always loved it.

Why did you decide to pursue a degree in nursing, and what are your career aspirations?

Litynski: I wanted to work in global public health. I’ve known that for a while because all around the world, people have health care needs; that’s just not something that you can argue. I debated between medicine and nursing, and I thought that nursing would give me more of the hands-on side and then I can transition into the global public health side of things. I think that’s what I’ll be doing with the Hillman program. I love the idea of holistic, patient-centered care and being that person who is at the patient’s side during their worst moments—that’s the amazing part about being in nursing. I don’t want to lose the hands-on care, but I want to eventually transition to a more systemic look at things. That way you can reach as many people as possible, and not just your one patient that day. I’d really like to work for an NGO or governmental organization that delivers global public health care.

Gillian Litynski
“Fencing has taught me to be a good follower and a good leader.” – Gillian Litynski

Nursing is a challenging major with rigorous academics and clinical requirements. Clearly, being a student athlete is also very demanding. How do you balance it all?

Litynski: I don’t perfectly manage it, but I do keep in good communication with everyone. There are going to be times when I have to skip a nursing class because I have to travel for fencing, or when I can’t go to a meet or can’t come to a practice because I have a clinical rotation. I just need to make sure that my coaches and the leaders in the nursing program are all aware of my situation. It’s the support from them that makes this all possible.

Do you see any particular areas of overlap between athletics and nursing? How you think the experience of being a student athlete might impact how you approach your work as a nurse?

Litynski: In health care, more and more it’s all about the team perspective. It’s not just a doctor, it’s nurses, nurse assistants, pharmacists…knowing how to work well on a team is really something I’ve gotten from being on the fencing team. Fencing has taught me to be a good follower and a good leader. That sounds corny, but you have to know when it’s your time to step up and say that you know something about a certain area, or when it’s time to trust someone else’s knowledge and be humble. Athletics can really teach you when it’s important to be humble, and that’s something that matters for healthcare.

Related links:

A double dream come true: A conversation with Alexandra Moore

Alex Moore
Alex Moore

Alex Moore, class of 2017, says playing lacrosse while studying to become a nurse is like two dreams come true. The opportunity to pursue nursing without dropping out of sports is what drove her to transfer to UNC in 2014; previously, she played for the University of Southern California, where she was the leading goal scorer on the women’s lacrosse team.

At UNC, Moore participates in the Carolina Leadership Academy’s Rising Stars program. Designed for a select group of high-potential sophomores and juniors, the program provides future leaders with insights, strategies and skills necessary to become effective leaders.

The following is an edited interview.

Where does your passion for sports come from?

Moore: I’ve played lacrosse since I was in third grade. My dad played in college, so he got me started with it, and I guess I would say I just fell in love with it. I couldn’t imagine not having lacrosse, especially in college. I grew to be just as passionate about nursing as I got older. The decision to choose one over the other just wasn’t an option for me.

Why did you decide to pursue a degree in nursing, and what are your career aspirations?

Moore: My grandpa suffered a really debilitating stroke a few years ago, when I was in high school, and he can’t walk or talk anymore. When I saw him around the nurses and the way he interacted with them…he was really willing to work with them to get better. Seeing that, I thought, of course I want to go and help people.

[Another influential experience] was when my grandmother collapsed. I was 16 years old, and I had no idea what to do. But I had the calmness and instinct to help immediately. That’s kind of when I knew I wanted to be a nurse, so that I can help patients in reaching their optimal health.

Also, my other grandmother, who has now passed away, was a nurse. She was such a loving, caring and giving person—common qualities of a nurse that I admire and embrace. She would be proud!

After school, I would love to work in New York City at Mount Sinai for two years in the intensive care unit. Then, I’d like to go back to school and become a nurse anethesist. That’s my dream.

Alex Moore
“Why let your sport get in the way of your academics and your dreams? If you can do both of your dreams, you get the whole package.” – Alex Moore

Nursing is a challenging major with rigorous academics and clinical requirements. Clearly, being a student athlete is also very demanding. How do you balance it all?

Moore: It was very hard to find a school that would be supportive of me doing nursing and playing lacrosse. My decision to go to Carolina was 100 percent because of being able to do both nursing and lacrosse. Other schools I talked to just won’t allow it because of the high demands of nursing and the high demands of playing a sport. [My coaches] have really helped with understanding that I do have an equal passion for nursing and that I’m going to be dedicating a lot of my time to my studies. Likewise, on the nursing side, they understand that I’m on a team sport and that I’m going to have to travel for games and be away sometimes. It’s really awesome to have that support.

It’s funny…on long bus trips while everybody else is watching movies or getting ready for the game, I’m sitting there with my microbiology or anatomy book studying for the big test I have when I get back. It’s definitely a lot [to handle], but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Do you see any particular areas of overlap between athletics and nursing? How you think the experience of being a student athlete might impact how you approach your work as a nurse?

Moore: For sure. A lot of it is the accountability that I’m used to having, the ability to handle high-pressure situations, the ability to communicate with my teammates, as well as my coaches and other authorities. Also the desire to do well, to win, to get that goal—it’s the same kind of passion that drives me in pursuing the nursing profession, where the desire to help people and the altruism involved is what drives you. [It’s also qualities like] responsibility and time management, the ability to talk well with people, and the ability to understand others and accept people for who they are, despite your differences.

Any other thoughts?

I think it’s important to say that I’m actually the first lacrosse player to ever be in the nursing program, and the lacrosse program has been around 20 years. A team sport is different than more individualized sports; since I’m on a team with 40 girls, my coach can’t really schedule practice around my academic demands. By being admitted to the program and being on a team sport, I kind of paved the way for other student athletes.

It’s nice to see how athletics is evolving, because we’re not limited anymore in what we can do. I know several other athletes who are planning to switch to nursing. There’s even a younger player who will be coming into the lacrosse team who wants to go into nursing, and she chose Carolina in part because of that. It’s a great feeling to be able to create that pathway and change the attitudes on it.

It’s unbelievable because to be a nurse is like a dream come true to me, but to also share that passion with others and be able to make that pathway for other people, it’s just awesome to see. Why let your sport get in the way of your academics and your dreams? If you can do both of your dreams, you get the whole package.

Related links:

Clearing hurdles and on track for success: A conversation with Tory Kemp

Tory Kemp
Tory Kemp

Tory Kemp, class of 2017, is running full steam ahead both on the track and in her nursing studies. She ranks 3rd all-time in UNC’s history in the heptathlon, a grueling seven-event track and field battery including the 100-meter hurdle, high jump, shot put, 200-meter, long jump, javelin throw and 800-meter.

A stellar student, Kemp was recently honored as an All-ACC Academic athlete, which requires a minimum 3.0 cumulative and last-semester grade-point average.

The following is an edited interview.

Where does your passion for sports come from?

Kemp: I grew up in a household where sports were pretty big—my dad played collegiate football and sports has always been a big part of my life. Coming out of high school, it just felt natural to continue that in college on a higher and more intense level.

Why did you decide to pursue a degree in nursing, and what are your career aspirations?

Kemp: I’ve always been into sciences and had a fascination with the human body. In high school and college I’ve had my fair share of injuries, and being surrounded by doctors and therapists and seeing how influential they are in my life and how health care providers can really make a difference—it kind of pushed me to want to go down that path. I’m a real hands-on person and a people person, so I just felt like it was the perfect career for me.

I’d like to work with women and children eventually, but I’m pretty open.

Tory Kemp
“Your schedule is so tight, you sort of become hyper-focused… I think it’s a challenge that I’m prepared for.” – Tory Kemp

Nursing is a challenging major with rigorous academics and clinical requirements. Clearly, being a student athlete is also very demanding. How do you balance it all?

Kemp: You know, being a student athlete, you’re already under such a rigorous and intense schedule and you really learn to prioritize your time and to study effectively when you have the time. Your schedule is so tight, you sort of become hyper-focused. So I feel like even though nursing is very rigorous and there is a lot of work that comes along with it, it’s nothing out of the ordinary from what I’ve been doing. And the resources you get as a student athlete really help me along with that, too. I think it’s a challenge that I’m prepared for.

Do you see any particular areas of overlap between athletics and nursing? How you think the experience of being a student athlete might impact how you approach your work as a nurse?

Kemp: Definitely. There’s a huge connection between our well-being and people like nurses. For me personally, having been injured four times in my college career, I’ve seen how much a nurse can really help you through an injury or an illness. Being on the other side of the fence—when you have your own patients—you want to really provide the best care, because you know that you are going to be that one influential person during that time in the person’s life.

Tory KempAlso, athletics has taught me how to work in a team, how to adapt, how to persevere, communicate, self- motivate, and pay attention to detail… all qualities that I’m sure will help me in my career as a nurse.

Related links:

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