Caring for husband inspired graduate to pursue nursing career

School of Nursing gradaute Terri Baker

While caring for her ailing husband, Terry Baker learned that she had a natural talent for nursing. After her daughter became a registered nurse many years later, Baker knew it was time to pursue a career she would love.

Thirty-five years after graduating from high school, Baker received a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree on Sunday, May 23, at the Collins Center on Baker University’s Baldwin City campus. For two years, the dedicated nursing student made the three-hour round-trip commute from her lifelong home in Council Grove to Stormont-Vail HealthCare to attend classes at Baker’s School of Nursing.

“I really wanted to achieve this goal,” Baker said. “I was fascinated with what my daughter learned when she went to nursing school and became a registered nurse, and what I learned about the health-care profession when my husband was ill.”

In 1997, Terri’s husband, Jeffry, died after a five-year battle with malignant melanoma, leaving her at home to care for a 13-year-old daughter, Brooke, and 7-year-old son, Morgan.

“In his time of need, I wanted to help my husband as much as I could with his health care,” Terri said. “I enrolled in a certified nurse assistant class to investigate if nursing was something I was interested in. I enjoyed the class and discovered I wanted to work in the medical field.”

Baker remained a stay-at-home mother until her son graduated from high school before beginning her nursing school experience.

“It takes stamina,” Baker said of raising two children as a single parent. “If you can go through that, you can go through anything. I could not have done it without the support I had from family and friends. I do have a lot of family support. My brothers gave a male influence to my son and I had a neighbor whose husband passed away. We were in similar situations and understood each other.”

All of her family, including her in-laws,  joined her for the pinning ceremony on May 21 in Topeka and commencement on May 23 in Baldwin City.

“I am very fortunate to have immense support from my entire family,” Baker said. “They have helped in so many ways, from cooking and helping care for my children.”

Baker was attracted to the School of Nursing because of its connection to Stormont-Vail HealthCare and its reputation in pediatrics and neonatals. After graduating, she hopes to work in the pediatric department of a hospital or clinic.

Baker received support from her classmates during her two years of studies. Concerned at first about being a nontraditional nursing student, she quickly became familiar with her colleagues.

“I felt very well accepted,” said Baker, who completed her nursing prerequisites at area community colleges. “I served on lots of committees and have excellent interaction with other students. That helps with the bonding. You realize we’re all on the same boat.”

Baker thrived academically, recently inducted into Sigma Theta Tau International, the honor society for nursing. Undergraduate students must have a 3.0 grade-point average and rank in the top 35 percent of their class to qualify for membership.

Her instructors said Baker was conscientious and focused in completing her coursework and clinicals.

“She has a quiet leadership,” said Bobbe Mansfield, an advanced registered practitioner and assistant professor who teaches community health at the nursing school.

For a nursing research project, Baker focused on melanoma, centering on the body’s exposure to tanning beds.

“I am interested in the caring part, the mechanics of the human body and what happens when a decline starts,” she said. “I want to know what can be done medically. I think my husband would be thrilled by this accomplishment.”

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