Nursing the Future
At her 2004 graduaton from UC College of Nursing, Sarah Lamkin (now Sarah Oerther), center, was welcomed into the nursing professon by, from left, her grandmother, Eileen Lamkin; her aunts Rita Lamkin Snyder and Penny Lamkin Culpepper; and her mother, Marcia Lamkin.
Like her grandmother, mother and two aunts, Sarah (Lamkin) Oerther, ’04, chose a career in nursing. Now a leader in the profession, she's nurturing the next generation of nurses.
By: Keith Stichtenoth
Many people talk of “going into the family business.”
For Sarah Oerther, ’04, that’s the nursing profession. After all, she grew up with nurses all around her as familial role models.
The Cincinnati native’s earliest memory of nursing was as a four- or five-year-old looking at photos of her mother, grandmother and two aunts wearing “weird hats” as part of their nursing uniforms. Her love for her tight-knit family, combined with a growing understanding of their work, drew her to follow in their footsteps.
“Sarah was very intellectually stimulated in her Physiology class at Walnut Hills High School,” says her mother, Marcia Lamkin, ’78. “Her love of people and her strong relational skills also grew as she approached college. I saw her gravitate to the field of nursing very naturally.”
That was satisfying for Marcia, who had used her UC College of Nursing degree in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit at University Hospital, which she calls her “most rewarding setting as a nurse.” She also worked at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in both Home Health Care and Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics.
“During Sarah’s formative years, she soaked up a love for nursing,” says Marcia. “As she approached college and became more serious about choosing her own path, there were opportunities to share my own journey in nursing. Nurses love to talk about nursing — I now can see Sarah caught that!”
And it was always going to be her hometown university for Sarah.
“My parents both attended UC, met there and fell in love,” she says. “UC has always been an important part of our family life, and growing up we would attend UC football and basketball games. We’re definitely a family of Bearcats!”
Arriving as a freshman for the 1999-2000 year concurrently with the heaviest construction in the middle of UC’s campus (“I remember eating hamburgers at Mr. Jim’s in the “bubble” while TUC was being remodeled”), Sarah easily connected with other nursing students and developed rich and lasting friendships, including serving as a bridesmaid more times than she can count.
“In my sophomore year, I began working at the Cincinnati Children’s Poison Control Center. Between classes, clinicals, and working at the Poison Center, I gained a ton of nursing skills, started lifelong professional relationships, and truly learned what it means to care for patients.
Seeing the World Differently
As an upperclassman, some very special moments during her clinicals forever solidified her love for her profession.
“One time I had the chance to attend some of the operations for burn victims at Shriner’s Hospital, and I was inspired to be part of a healthcare team that provided advanced, lifesaving care to burn victims from all around the world,” Sarah says. “Another time, I followed a non-English speaking, single immigrant mom while she gave birth to her first child. It was an opportunity to learn the important role of a nurse as a health advocate for our patients — I was the only person she had at her bedside during the entire birth.”
As a senior, another clinical found Sarah traveling to rural Honduras and learning community health nursing in a developing country — a stunning contrast with the sophisticated healthcare system in the U.S.
“My experience of learning-by-doing in clinicals was my favorite part of my UC nursing education — and of course learn-by-doing is a hallmark of many programs at UC!”
Sarah has gone on to become an influential nurse, researcher and teacher while a part-time PhD student in Saint Louis University’s School of Nursing. Working with a series of outstanding mentors, she has been studying theory of nursing research and evidence-based practice, becoming a mainstay at nursing conferences, and establishing a national reputation. In recent years, she has helped with the design, implementation and assessment of a comprehensive nutrition program for three villages in rural Tanzania; helped create a sustainable nursing workforce at the Hinduja Hospital and Medical Research Center in Mumbai, India; published on the subject of nursing leadership in global health issues; and received numerous honors. Currently she is performing research on the first 1,000 days of life, defined as the time from when a mother learns she’s pregnant until the child’s second birthday.
“For me, the experience of learning-by-doing has come full circle as I have the opportunity to teach a new generation of nurses,” she says.
It’s heady stuff — and Sarah shares all of it with her mother, recently retired from her part-time nursing role with Cincinnati Children’s and always eager to hear of her daughter’s new educational adventures. Their dialogues, which continue to include Sarah’s aunts when the whole family gathers, cover various fascinating subjects regarding how nursing must remain true to its ultimate mission while embracing the technological changes of a rapidly evolving world.
“What comes to mind vividly are the beneficial as well as detrimental effects of increased technology related to nursing practice,” Marcia says. “There’s no question that advanced technology saves countless lives every day, yet we nurses must strive to keep the human element a priority. Do we rely on machines to assess our patients to the point that we lose our own keen senses and their ability to assist in that process? Do we have a computer screen creating a barrier between us and our patients? Are the nurses being replaced by other health care personnel at the bedside or otherwise? Things to think about…
“Nursing is a science as well as an art. Let’s not allow machines and technology to rob us of the art of nursing that provides deep connection and promotes healing in that connection.”
Is there a fourth generation in the making? Young Emma Oerther, right-center, is already curious about the life’s work of her great-grandmother, Eileen Lamkin; grandmother, Marcia Lamkin; and her mother, Sarah.
Growing Up with a Role Model
Sarah loves that her mom thinks like this. She admits to peeking at Marcia’s nightstand whenever she visits her parents in Cincinnati.
“It’s always full of books about the latest research on child psychology, nutrition, holistic wellness and spirituality,” she says. “It inspires me that she continues to want to improve herself as a nurse by staying current on the latest research, and I know she’s proud that my work toward a PhD in nursing is producing research that is helping to advance the frontiers of our profession.
“My mom is always encouraging about what I’m doing in nursing, and she’s always asking questions about my work. Sharing practice across generations is an important part of nursing’s body of knowledge.”
Grateful for the strong foundation she received at UC, Sarah recently made a gift to support the inaugural white coat ceremony, begun this past fall by College of Nursing Dean Greer Glazer, and visited Procter Hall to see many of the amazing innovations at the college.
“We are definitely invested in the success of the college and we’re looking for more ways we can be supportive with our time, talent and treasure,” Sarah says.
The Oerthers’ contributions may include sending a new generation into the field.
“Because our children have grown up watching me studying for my PhD in nursing, our son, Barney, and our daughter, Emma, have both expressed an interest in nursing,” Sarah says proudly. “They have learned that nursing is a legacy in our family. My mom talks to them about nursing, and my husband collaborates with nurses in his job as a professor of engineering. You could say that nursing is in our family DNA!”
To Marcia, this family history is “an experience of gratitude.”
“The gifts we were each entrusted with in terms of education and aptitude evoke in me a deep sense of thankfulness,” she says. “The privilege to exercise those gifts as nurses has been an honor for me personally. To have been able to play a vital role in some of the most wonderful, as well as the most difficult, moments in the lives of parents and their children is truly humbling. I feel I can safely speak for Sarah and her aunts and grandmother as well. Perhaps I speak for countless nurses.”