Trading the Classroom for the Front Lines


In 2020, Jessica Glinski ’22 DNP answered the call to take a leave of absence from the doctor of nursing practice (DNP) program at Valparaiso University to serve on the front lines of the pandemic with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). This sacrifice was a difficult decision, but it proved as educational — and perhaps even more impactful — as time in the classroom for Jessica.

Jessica originally signed up as a volunteer with FEMA in 2012 after returning from serving as an E4 medic in the military during two wars. Her first and only deployment with the organization prior to the pandemic was during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

When the COVID-19 pandemic first raged across the United States in the spring of 2020, the Kouts, Indiana, native found herself wishing she could do more. Jessica is constantly learning and challenging herself to better care for her patients as a student in Valpo’s DNP program, and she knew there must be something she could do to help. When FEMA called with an opportunity to deploy to New York City in April, Jessica knew she had to pause her academic schedule and accept.

“I stayed in New York City until the middle of May, and then had the opportunity to go to Texas,” Jessica says. “I learned so much being there on the front lines, and FEMA needed someone who knew how to make an intensive care unit (ICU) out of nothing. It was a learning experience to make something from the ground up. Any situation where I can do a kind of combat nursing, I thrive.”

Jessica had the experience needed to transform non-traditional hospital spaces into ICUs in Texas thanks to her time in New York City. Because the condition of COVID-19 patients can deteriorate so quickly, organizing the space into an open bay ICU helps health care workers keep an eye on more patients at a time. This format allows nurses — carrying significantly taxed nurse-to-patient ratios — to support each other as well by keeping an eye on each other’s patients when possible.

Pressing pause on her classes has increased the impact on Jessica, rather than slowing her momentum. “I never thought of this as a sacrifice, I thought of it as learning. Of course I want to graduate, but at the time I knew there was a bigger need for me [on the front lines] than there was for me to go back to school in the fall,” Jessica says. “A nurse learning on the job is one of the best things we can do. You see the patients and how they are treated, but also different treatments depending on what is available and feasible.”

Valpo’s doctor of nursing practice program guides students like Jessica to incorporate four significant concepts: nurse, person, health, and environment. Jessica is an example of the interconnectedness of these concepts in action. As a nurse serving on the highly demanding front lines of an ongoing pandemic, Jessica drew strength from her experience as a combat medic, her education, her family, and the fellow health care workers around her.

Nola Schmidt, Ph.D., RN, CNE, professor of nursing, has taught and mentored Jessica during her studies so far. “Jessica’s commitment to serving others, while risking her own health and well-being, is exemplary of the heroism demonstrated by our health care providers. She is a remarkable nurse who felt called to make a difference in the health of others,” Professor Schmidt says. “Jessica has an upbeat and delightful personality, and I am sure that she brought a bit of sunshine to patients who were scared and lonely. Her service during this time of crisis exemplifies the values of Valparaiso University and the College of Nursing and Health Professions.”

Jessica is pursuing her doctor of nursing practice to set an example for her two children, and to continue learning. “I love to learn and wanted to learn a different role in nursing. I was a nurse for eight years when I started the program,” Jessica says. “I needed to go back to school and go all the way for my dreams when I encourage my kids to pursue their dreams no matter what obstacles they face.”

“The most rewarding part of this experience has been witnessing nurses from many states and backgrounds coming together as a profession to be on the front lines together. I haven’t seen that kind of camaraderie since the military.”