Many people go into teaching or nursing because they want to help people. Concordia University professor Natalie McHugh, RN, DNP, combined her passions of caring for children and teaching new nursing students.
As a professor at the Ann Arbor university, she pushes her students to be “insatiably curious” and to understand how they are responsible for others in their care.
See what McHugh has to say about Concordia, its nursing program and what she likes to do for fun.
Why did you choose Concordia?
McHugh: Concordia seemed to be the perfect fit for me. I love the fact that CUAA incorporates and prioritizes faith and Christian values in their daily work and mission statement. I also really appreciate that the size of the school gives me the opportunity to really get to know the students at a very personal level, including their diverse backgrounds, hopes and dreams.
What do you love about Concordia?
McHugh: As stated above, I love the mission and I love the small class sizes. However, I especially love the diverse and unique students we serve. We are blessed to serve many nontraditional undergraduate students and a large percentage of first-generation college students. The opportunity to partner with these students is incredible. I love partnering with them to achieve their goals. Seeing their proud and invested families is especially exciting and gratifying, too.
Of course, I also love my peers and feel fortunate to work with such a deeply committed crew of comrades. We share similar values, yet we possess and bring very different gifts to the table. We strive together to find creative and unique solutions for the many challenges facing nursing education during these most difficult times.
What are the goals for your program?
McHugh: I have way too many goals, and I constantly struggle to pare them down to a manageable number! In general, my goals for our program align with our university’s core values. I want to be a part of molding students who will be excellent nurses. My hope is for them to demonstrate integrity, compassion, and a career emphasizing service to others. I also hope to exceed the national average for NCLEX pass rates.
Also, I want to spread the word far and wide on how amazing this program is! I truly believe we are a diamond in the rough. Concordia offers a unique learning experience. Once people discover our program, admissions numbers will soar. This will give us the opportunity to educate and train even more excellent nurses to go out and serve the world.
What’s the one key lesson you hope students take away when learning from you?
McHugh: While I hope my students absorb the coursework and knowledge we pass on to them, I also hope they take away a generous and optimistic outlook and a drive to be their best. In class, I try to push them to be insatiably curious, appreciate the wonder of the human body, mind, and soul, and realize the privileged role we are blessed to play in our patients’ lives.
McHugh: When students ask a question that I don’t know during class, my reflex response is “let’s look it up!” and we research it and learn together. While I have no doubt some find this annoying (my dad always did this to me growing up and I hated it), I think this is good modeling and good practice for when they are in the real world. None of us can ever know all there is to know as a nurse, so I hope I can teach them “confident humility” and the tools needed to make them a safe and effective nurse in the real world. I believe a stance of curiosity and a commitment to be a lifelong learner is a big part of that.
Positivity builds resiliency
McHugh: A positive outlook and working hard at personal resiliency is also key. Nursing as a profession has shouldered a major burden during this pandemic. Exhaustion, fatigue, and “burnout” are very real side effects that have been driving scores of nurses away from the bedside. Teaching and modeling for my students to find joy and profound meaning in the mundane, very difficult and painful is one of my goals. This is an interface where our Christian faith has the potential to play a very important and positive role. In addition, the benefits of being a positive team player and great “shipmate” as my father would say, can’t be overstated. I hope our students leave Concordia with these tools that I try to emulate and foster.
What’s your education and career background?
McHugh: I received my Bachelor of Science from the University of Michigan School of Nursing. Following graduation, I started a job at Mott Children’s Hospital at the University of Michigan, working on a pediatric inpatient floor. Simply put, I fell in love with caring for children and their families. I also fell in love with precepting nursing students on the floor. I loved the days when we had students come to learn with us, while it was clear that many of my colleagues did not.
In an effort to combine these two passions, I returned to school while simultaneously working and raising a family and received my Doctorate of Nursing Practice in pediatric primary care through Rush University. With this doctorate degree, I was qualified to teach didactic and clinical classes to nursing students. I am also a certified pediatric nurse practitioner and am licensed to provide direct care to children and their families like I have always loved to do.
What are some of your career highlights/accomplishments?
McHugh: While looking back at my career, I do not know that I have any publication-worthy highlights. I think surviving graduate school, while working and giving birth to 2 children was a major accomplishment. When I started at Concordia, I taught just one main lecture and a few labs. Over the past 2 years, my role has expanded significantly, and I have taken on progressively more responsibilities.
Now I’m the lead professor for 4 theory classes and a clinical. I’m also more active in various committees and in the shaping and planning for the future of this school. With all that said, this past fall, a student asked me to pin them at our pinning ceremony. It was an honor and surprisingly moving and meaningful to me. I certainly count that opportunity as a highlight of my professional journey to date as well.
What’s the most interesting part of your field that the general public might not know?
McHugh: I believe it is difficult to convey to others how humbling, fun, and interesting it is to get to know each new class of students. The path of trying to develop a warm, trusting, and dynamic mentoring / learning relationship with each group is so very different and often unanticipated. It is a great challenge to try and be flexible and nimble in such a way that works best for each group, while remaining steadfast and true to your core values.
What do you like to do for fun?
McHugh: By necessity, for fun, I like to play with my 4 children and spend time with my husband. There are always ninjas to fight, cars to race and obstacle courses to navigate in my house. While never quiet, or clean, it’s never boring. When there is time, I like to cook and bake. Teaching my children to help and create in the kitchen has been a blast. We also like to exercise. Trying to instill a love for physical activity and a deep respect for their bodies in my kids is challenging. But, it’s been fun as well. This winter, we’ve been ice skating, sledding, and going on winter hikes.
Why should students study in your program?
McHugh: I’m obviously biased, but I think nursing is the best career there is. There is such a broad range of job opportunities and never a shortage of jobs! The possibilities are endless. I truly believe there is a place for every personality. The opportunity to serve the world and to do it in these unique and personal ways is an honor and a privilege. It’s one of the only undergraduate degrees that gives its graduates the daunting responsibility of caring for others during one of the most vulnerable and challenging points in their lives.
Why should students consider coming to Concordia?
McHugh: Concordia offers a unique nursing education. The faculty who teach here are passionate about their careers and their students’ futures. The experiences that students receive in simulation, clinical, lecture, lab, and even global trips, are truly unique and personalized and shape exceptionally prepared nurses who will go out and change the world.
I mean this with no ill will, but the reality is that throughout my undergraduate nursing experience, no professor knew my name. My classes had over 100 students each (some 300+), and I simply did not have a personal connection to my program. Concordia is the opposite.
When students graduate, every staff member or faculty knows the their names, where they came from, what their dreams and goals are. I have come to learn their strengths, weaknesses, extracurricular activities (I’ve attended basketball and football games this year to see my students play) and for better or worse, I’m absolutely invested in their futures and where they end up.
Every year at their pinning ceremony, I cry because I’m so proud of all they have accomplished, endured, and become. I hear from graduates and past students regularly as they check in and tell me the stories of their nursing careers and are then able to recognize the quality and unique nature of their Concordia education and experience. In my humble opinion, this is not the norm and we truly do offer students a different experience.
Those interested in learning more about CUAA’s Ronald and Marvel Jones School of Nursing, can visit its website.