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Inaugural Willow Ceremony honors nurse practitioners

GERMANTOWN, Tenn.Dec. 3, 2008 – Nurse practitioners play important roles as health care providers. Depending upon the laws in their home states, nurse practitioners examine patients, prescribe medications and order medical tests.

These and other skills are of special significance to Sherrie Serca, a nurse practitioner student from Cordova, Tenn., and one of 40 students and alumni honored during the School of Nursing’s inaugural Willow Ceremony Nov. 13 on Union’s Germantown campus.

Serca wants to take the advanced knowledge she’ll gain in Union’s nurse practitioner program to the mission field in Africa. She has already made short-term nursing mission trips to Cambodia and China as well as Africa.

“When I go as a nurse I just see so much need there,” Serca said. “I feel like I can be useful if I go over with this experience and education under my belt.”

The Willow Ceremony is a relatively new initiation in nursing schools. Originally conceived at the University of Wyoming, it is patterned after White Coat Ceremonies in medical and pharmacy schools.

“The willow tree is a metaphor for the nurse practitioner,” said Valerie Watters-Burke, chair of graduate nursing programs at Union.

She said the tree’s flexible branches represent a network of cooperative nurses working in a variety of situations, while the strong roots signify the demanding academic preparation required for a master’s degree in nursing.

Each student received a willow branch cutting and a gift bag to commemorate the event. Honorees included recent alumni, soon-to-be graduates and students such as Serca, who still have a year or more of coursework to complete.

Union offers a 15-month nurse practitioner as a graduate program on its Germantown and Jackson campuses.

Some students go into the program with specific interests but forge new career goals based on their clinical experiences. Janet Call, from Atoka, Tenn., who expects to receive an NP degree in December, switched her emphasis from pediatrics to family care.

“When you treat a family, it seems like you’re getting a total picture,” said Call, who served for years as a labor and delivery nurse. “Diabetes is becoming such a huge issue, not only for adults but for children. So, if we can treat them when they’re young, it might help when they get older.”

Serca also sees prevention and education as major needs in Swaziland, where she observed HIV infection rates as high as 50 percent.

“There’s just a terrible belief over there (among some men) that if you’re infected with HIV and you have relations with a young girl, that you’ll be cured,” she said. “So the need for education and love is great.”

Serca wants her work to have a great impact upon Africa’s youth.

“It starts with the young children, building them up so they know they don’t have to follow the same lifestyle as their parents did,” she said.

Media contact: Tim Ellsworth, news@uu.edu, 731-661-5215

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