Alumni Spotlight: Caring From Bedside to Streetside
Tiffany Nelson, MSN, RN, ANP-C, has always worked hard to achieve her goals, including the impressive credentials behind her name. Yet all her success is driven by her passion to help others. It's in her DNA.
Her mom was a nurse and died when Tiffany was just 15. Raised by her grandparents from then on, Tiffany was shaped by her mother as well as by her grandmother, who dedicated herself to community work and opened her home to those in need.
"Our family has a natural affinity to help people," Tiffany explains. "I originally wanted to become a doctor but the tuition was a barrier. I was committed to funding my education myself because I didn't want to burden my grandparents. Today as a nurse practitioner, I'm still able to help people and make a positive impact in someone's life."
She first attended St. Louis Community College and graduated in 2003 with an associate's degree. For the next several years, she worked as a nurse in various settings. Then she took another important step in her career and graduated from Goldfarb School of Nursing at Barnes-Jewish College in 2009 with a BSN. Two years later, she received her MSN from the college and became an adult nurse practitioner—adding ANP-C behind her name.
Tiffany soon discovered a love for caring for the elderly and has worked in long-term care facilities ever since.
Shaping and Saving Lives
Meanwhile, at home, she wrangles four energetic sons, ages 11 to 17. With an already full plate, she also finds time to be a mentor for nursing students and a founder and president of a non-profit that helps the homeless.
"I enjoy mentoring nursing students and being able to help them go through the hard times on their journey," Tiffany says. "As a nurse, I get to both shape and save lives."
While she has spent her career unofficially mentoring nursing students, in February 2022, she established a more formal mentorship program to help African American students, who only make up 7% of the nursing population.
Currently, the team includes 15 mentors from all over the U.S. She is dedicated to building the virtual program by reaching out to various nursing schools, including Goldfarb, to offer this free mentoring. She is on a quest to provide mentoring to lift students up, the nursing profession and the community.
"Representation for nurses matters," Tiffany explains. "In the African American culture, people tend to be more willing to go into a field if they can relate to someone. It's important to start mentoring because we work in areas where the underserved are mostly African Americans so there are a lot of health disparities."
She continues: "Students want someone to talk to, bounce off ideas, and help them navigate nursing school. We're getting great feedback so far. Next, we want to formulate a way to have class sessions about specific topics such as stress relief and other mental health issues."
Since Tiffany attended nursing school, she has seen a lot of changes including the impact of social media on students. She believes social media is setting unrealistic expectations for students who see people becoming successful and wealthy with what appears on the surface to be little effort.
"The pressure of quick success is hurting our students," she says. "In the past, people got degrees at their own pace. Now people expect instant degrees, success and money. But they need to take their time."
Tiffany also believes mental health is more important than ever. Through her mentorship program, she addresses the toll the pandemic took on students and their mental health. "We make sure students are mentally OK so they know they can tackle classes and have someone they can talk to anytime and ask questions," she says.
Lessons for Life
She understands personally how mental health can impact every aspect of life. While she has worked as a nurse for nearly 20 years, the past two years have been a challenge like no other.
Tiffany experienced extraordinarily stressful times during the pandemic and watched many of her colleagues struggle with depression after caring for patients with COVID-19.
At the same time, Tiffany's children beamed with pride because their mom was a nurse. "They saw me as a superhero during the pandemic," Tiffany says.
She says the pandemic taught her about patience and being more flexible. "I learned to enjoy the moment because anything could quickly change. The pandemic also taught me to be more compassionate because you never know someone's back story or what they've been through. People I know committed suicide and I didn't know they were struggling. It made me realize we have to reach out more and ask how people are doing."
Through her career experiences as a nurse, she says the most important lesson she has learned is to keep going. "We're all going to have bad days and challenges. There are days you don't want to do it. But I tell myself the day you don't want to do it is the day you need to do it the most. There is a reward at the end, whatever your goal. You just have to keep going."
Alumni Advice for Nursing Students:
- If you need help, ask for it. Instructors and advisors don't know what they don't know, so if you're struggling, say something so you can get the help you need.
- Take care of yourself. The hardest part of being a student is finding time for yourself. Take a half-day to take care of yourself with no books, no lectures, no highlighters, and no laptops. Because if your mental health is not intact, nothing else will be either.
- Keep going. It's not always easy—even when it looks like it is for others, they are working behind the scenes. Nothing is handed to others.
- Focus on your own success. You're not in competition with other students. Everyone's journey is different.
The Heart of a Helper
Tiffany's commitment to helping others is embedded in her core—as a nurse, a mentor, and as a community advocate. She extends her caring spirit from the bedside to the streets of St. Louis.
In 2014, she launched a non-profit organization called TOTES4Tomorrow (Today's Outreach to Encourage Spirit for Tomorrow) to provide resources for the homeless and those at risk of homelessness. The organization plans events focused on encouraging kids to give back to those in need as they learn the value of philanthropy. Part of this lesson involves making care packages for the homeless.
Tiffany's selfless efforts have earned her a well-earned place in the spotlight. In 2020, she received the Made Moguls Black Tie Community Award in the Community Empowerment category. She also received the 2019 Legacy of Excellence Award from the Black Women Networking International Missouri/Illinois chapter. And in 2018, she was a St. Louis Post Dispatch Thanks for Giving nominee, among other awards and honors she has received throughout her career.
With a heart to help others, Tiffany isn't done yet. She was made for this.
Goldfarb is proud of our outstanding alum, Tiffany Nelson!