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Making the Leap from Working Professional to Nursing Student

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Kim O’Leary made the leap from health care communications professional to medical student and never looked back.

After completing UVM’s Post-Baccalaureate Pre-Medical Program in 2017, O’Leary will join the College of Nursing and Health Sciences this fall to pursue a doctorate of nursing practice degree.

O’Leary, who lives with her husband, Dave, and their two children in Essex, started the post-bac program at UVM with her sights set on becoming a doctor. But after one semester in the post-bac program’s pre-med track, she did some soul searching and switched to the program’s nurse practitioner track.

“I realized that being a nurse practitioner was a better fit for me. I really like the philosophy of nursing practice,” she says. “I want to work in primary care and I can do that as a nurse practitioner in much the same way as I could have as a primary care MD, without an additional three years of residency beyond the four years of this program.  It just seemed like a no brainer.”

O’Leary explains that nurse practitioners (NPs) tend to have more patient facetime than physicians and typically take a holistic approach to their patient’s overall health and wellness.

“The program track I am on will enable to me to provide primary care to adults, and in particular, geriatric patients. Older patients need a provider who can sit with them, understand their complex care needs, and help address social and environmental barriers to providing them the best possible care.”

Gaining Hands-on Medical Experience at UVM

To gain more clinical experience, O’Leary has been working at UVM Medical Center’s cardiology department as a technician, conducting stress tests, EKGs, and other non-invasive procedures. She works with patients of all ages, but has connected especially with the most senior patients. “They’re funny, smart, and they’ve got a lot going on health wise,” she says.

When O’Leary first applied to the post-bac program, she wanted to be an obstetrician.

“But having worked with older people, I realized how drawn I am to them and how I love listening to their life stories,” she says. “Older patients tend to have a healthier perspective, and I’ve learned a lot from them.”

Working in medicine is something O’Leary has thought about her entire life. As a child, her favorite book was a medical dictionary her parents kept in the house. While she was an undergraduate at Colby College, she was trying to decide whether to study English or medicine. “I was drawn to medicine, but I found it too intimidating at the time,” she says, explaining she opted to be an English major instead.

But medicine has been part of O’Leary’s career for more than a decade. She worked for the Vermont Agency of Human Services and later at UVM Medical Center’s marketing and communications office.

A Humbling, Life Changing Experience

She decided to take the leap to study medicine a few years ago. Still, going back to school in her 30s came with its own set of challenges.

“It was incredibly humbling. I hadn’t been in school in 15 years. I was required to delve into subjects that don’t come naturally to me, like physics and chemistry, and I had to really work hard to get good grades,” she says. “I was 36 and my lab partners were 18–young enough to be my children! I was used to working in the communications field, where I knew I was good at what I did. But as I headed into the post-bac program, I was starting from the bottom all over again.”

What has been the most rewarding for O’Leary is challenging herself and following her heart. “We’re all capable of doing great things—we just have to try,” she says.

Learn more about UVM’s Post-Baccalaureate Pre-Medical Program.