Lifelong dream realized: Brittany White's path to becoming a nurse
Determined and driven from an early age, Brittany White’s path to becoming a nurse would take her on a winding journey -- but never far from home and never losing sight of her goals
From left to right: Brittany White, shown above as a student with classmates (on the far right), graduating, in a professional photo and most recently - masking up with coworkers!
Brittany White, APRN, DNP, knew something not many kids know growing up—what she wanted to be.
“I’ve always wanted to be a nurse,” White said. “When I was little, I was in and out of clinics and always had a lot of influential nurses in my life. I knew I wanted to give back.”
White wasted no time in pursuing her dream.
She got a jump start on her college education by taking post-secondary classes in high school. By the time she enrolled at Hibbing Community College, which is a partner site for the Minnesota State University, Mankato School of Nursing, she was able to focus solely on nursing classes.
Home on the Range
White’s first health care job was in a nursing home. She later worked as a triage nurse and a care coordinator. And even though she loved the work, it only made her want to broaden her education. The trick was, to pursue her education close to home so she could be near family and continue to serve the rural population she loves.
“I just felt like I needed to do more for my patients so I decided to go back to school,” White said. “I had heard about the opportunities through Minnesota State Mankato during my time at Hibbing Community College and applied.”
White then graduated from the Family Nurse Practitioner program through Minnesota State Mankato and become certified through the American Association of Nurse Practitioners in 2017.
She also worked at Bois Forte Medical Clinic in Nett Lake, located on the Bois Forte Reservation. Working on the Reservation, she said, allowed her to spend more time with patients, learn about cultural differences, expand her skills in dealing with complex health conditions and further immerse herself in the challenges of rural health care.
“Rural health care is hard because you play many roles. Today for example, I’m the only DNP here,” White said during her interview for this story. “But students like me, who are from rural Minnesota, often want to work in rural Minnesota—it’s home.”
Receiving support—and confidence
As White continued her education, she set her sights on getting a graduate degree in nursing and received a Becky Taylor Fellowship to help her do just that.
The Fellowship, available through the Glen Taylor Nursing Institute for Family and Society at Minnesota State Mankato, provides Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) students with financial support, allowing them to focus on improving health care for families.
As it turns out, though, White would need to focus on her own family before helping others.
Just as she was starting her graduate program, her brother was in an accident, leaving him paralyzed from the chest down and fighting for his life. Her grandmother died from Alzheimer’s the same day as that accident. Then, in the last year of her DNP program, her fiancé landed in the hospital with severe complications from influenza. He required a ventilator and was in a medically induced coma to keep him alive.
Through all of this, White was sitting by his side, working on her research and attending classes online.
“My brother and my fiancé’s situations made me a better provider as I can relate to my patients who are going through difficult, life-altering changes,” White said. “It made me realize how fast life can change and that you need to pursue your dreams because tomorrow isn’t always promised.”
Even with all of White’s personal and professional experiences, she credits the Fellowship, the faculty, and the flexibility of the hybrid nursing program for expanding high-quality health care education to students in rural Minnesota and giving her just the boost she needed.
“When you start a program like nursing, walking into a patient room for the first time can be intimidating,” White said. “But by the time I left Minnesota State Mankato, I was able to go into a patient room alone and do it with confidence.”
Currently, White is working as a family practice provider at Scenic Rivers Health Care in northern Minnesota and raising two children. She has no plans to stop nursing but can’t help thinking about new ways she can continue to give back.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, White and her colleagues are implementing telehealth appointments. Her facility was identified as an essential testing site for COVID-19 and she is doing some cross-training in the emergency room to be able to assist providers if case there’s a surge in patients. Not surprisingly, the pandemic has sparked White’s interest to learn more about acute care so she can best meet the needs of patients who have severe injuries or illnesses.
Also on her radar is learning more about how mental health can impact overall health. White says patients with mental health challenges are more likely to struggle managing chronic diseases such as diabetes.
“I’ve thought about going to back for a psychology degree to better serve my patients,” White said. “Mental health impacts everything and it’s a big issue in family practice. I think that will continue to grow.”
In addition to giving back through her work, White is also giving back to the institution that supported her by teaching an adjunct class in nursing at Minnesota State Mankato, working with students who are in similar situations as herself.
“I absolutely love it all and wouldn’t change a thing,” White said. “Life can be a bit hectic but when it comes to health, I’m nonstop.”