She sat at the dining room table, clinging to every word her father said. He was telling his daughter about his day at work as a critical care technician in the emergency room. She listened to stories like this every day when he came home from work. Young Jessica dreamed of saving lives and discovering what was beneath the skin.
Jessica Dustin, a senior nursing major from Cedar City, grew up as the oldest of five girls. She was very close to her sisters, sometimes too close. Sharing one bathroom redefined the rules of privacy. However, she still loved her sisters and enjoyed spending time with them.
“She’s the kind of person that likes to take care of people,” Curtis Chamberlain, her father, said. “She was that way as a big sister. She was naturally that way.”
She brought that caring personality and love for science into her first job as a lifeguard. While most of her time at this job entailed watching people swim and applying Band-Aids, Dustin did have the opportunity to put her CPR training to the test. One day, when another lifeguard pulled an unconscious woman from the water, Dustin administered CPR. After emergency personnel arrived, Dustin was allowed to go home early and was offered free counseling, but she neither wanted it nor needed it: she had truly found her calling.
“It never scared me or made me not want to go into the medical field,” Dustin said. “It actually showed me a little bit of what I was capable of and how much more I wanted to help people. I was really surprised at how well I handled the whole thing, to be honest. But because of that, it made me realize that I really wanted to be a nurse to help people even more.”
Not long after this experience, Dustin was accepted into the nursing program at SUU. This rigorous program, full of long days at hospitals and in classrooms, brought the studious honor-roll member to a new challenge when she began failing tests.
“I remember her saying, ‘Mom, it was like I totally froze, I couldn’t concentrate, I couldn’t think straight, I couldn’t breathe. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen,’” Michelle Chamberlain, Dustin’s mother, said. “She wanted to get up and run out of the room, but she didn’t.”
Having never experienced anxiety before, Dustin had two options: figure out how to manage her testing anxiety now or redo the semester. The thought of retaking classes only gave her more worries. It would mean more time and money, not to mention an entirely new set of classmates and the need to make new friends. She approached her professors for help and suggestions in managing her anxiety.
Sheridawn Neilson, a registered nurse and professor at SUU, was one of the professors who helped Dustin with her anxiety.
“We talked about what had specifically happened to her and tried to come up with strategies to relieve that if it happened again during the next test,” Neilson said. She suggested breathing exercises, taking practice tests and leaving the classroom for a minute during a test.“ (Leaving the room) seemed to work well for her as well, knowing that she had a way to get away from the cause of her anxiety before continuing on.” Dustin began practicing meditation techniques, writing her feelings in a journal about upcoming exams, using practice testing books and studying early to leave time for relaxation.
“It’s been fun to see the progress of her from her first semester to now,” Joshua Dustin, her husband, said. “(Especially in) her study habits and the friendships that she’s gained. Overall, it’s been a great experience. A lot of work, very difficult at times.”
Dustin recently became a licensed practical nurse and began work at Bella Terra, a local rehabilitation center and nursing home. When she is not at school or clinicals, Dustin is at Bella Terra working 12 hour shifts of primarily checking blood sugar and blood pressure, changing bandages and administering medication. Many people would find this work monotonous, but Dustin said she enjoys her job—and it shows. She knows all of the residents she works with by name and cares for them gently and patiently.
When I accompanied Dustin to work one day, I saw her caring nature first-hand. She made sure each resident was comfortable, asked them about their day, helped them maneuver their wheelchairs and joked with teasers.
Her supervisor, Kathy Williams, sees Dustin’s care of the patients on a daily basis. Most of the patients that Williams is over can be challenging because they suffer from dementia and other mental illnesses.
“Jessica is very compassionate and very kind to the residents,” Williams said. “She’s definitely an asset. She’s great to have here. … I would definitely let her take care of my family member.”
Getting to know the residents and their stories has been very enjoyable for Dustin, but it can make the loss of a resident (expected or unexpected) more difficult. In these times, she relies on her loving husband and her faith in Jesus Christ to help her.
“It strengthens (my beliefs) a lot,” she said. “Some families, they don’t believe in the afterlife, … They think that this is just it. It can be hard working with the families that don’t have an eternal perspective, just a ‘this is it’ kind of a thing.”
Dustin plans to complete the nursing program this December, but she is not sure where she would like to work in the future because she has enjoyed many of her different clinicals. Wherever she ends up, she is going to make her family and friends proud.
“She’s always said that this is what she wants to do and she’s going to do it,” Mrs. Chamberlain said. “Don’t give up on your dreams. Fight for what you want even if it takes a lot of work and it’s hard. … She’s a good example of that.