Professor Receives Nurse Educator of the Year Award

A terrible loss turned into a chance to impact people in a different way for Abigail Vetter, assistant professor of practice in the school of nursing. Vetter has affected her students so much that senior nursing students nominated her for Nurse Educator of the Year, resulting in her winning the award at the state convention.

Vetter has a Master of Science in nursing, is board certified as an Acute Care Pediatric Nurse Practitioner and is completing her doctorate through Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee.

While being a professor at NDSU, a mother, wife and completing her doctorate, she also works in Minneapolis at Children’s Minnesota. She incorporates her continuation of practicing into her teachings by bringing real-world experience to her students.

Vetter was originally fulfilling her degree in environmental engineering, but once her third child was born with a rare life-limiting condition, it all changed. Vetter began to learn how to advocate and care for her daughter. Toward the end of her life, she spent a lot of times in the hospital, leading Vetter to be surrounded by nurses and physicians, more than ever before.

“I mean, as much as it was really awful to have a child going through this, I really enjoyed watching the team work together,” Vetter shared. “I enjoyed the science of trying to figure out what was going on with her and how to correct that and how to work with all of that.”

After her daughter died at the young age of five and a half years old, it affected how she felt about her career, causing her husband to encourage her to go back to school to become a nurse. “I just felt like I’d be happier with that, more fulfilling — because of what we had gone through. I just thought that it might be something that I might have a different kind of impact on people than I was having in my other degree,” Vetter explained.

After being a pediatric nurse primarily in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Sanford Children’s Hospital, Vetter moved onto impacting students. “I always enjoyed education — I just (thought) it’s always kind of been a dream in the back of my mind to be able to be a professor. I really didn’t think it would happen this early in my career,” Vetter shared.

After being nominated for the Nurse Educator of the Year award, Vetter was surprised and humbled. Her first response to being told she was nominated was, “Well, what did I do?” because she did not think she approached teaching any differently as any other professor did.

“I really try to relate to my students as to where they are in their program and in their lives and how my course impacts them and changes their thoughts on what they’re doing and how they apply that as a nurse,” Vetter said.

Many students wrote letters in support of her nomination, to which several talked about Vetter’s ability to relate concepts from class to the real-world and understanding the impact on patients because of their actions.

A problem many professors encounter is forgetting that students are just students and shouldn’t understand the concepts yet, but Vetter keeps that in mind. She explained how she knows they are not practicing yet and that they are only nursing students, therefore she tries to create an environment with less pressure to be perfect. “I don’t expect my students to be perfect because they’re not. They’re students; they’re still learning,” Vetter said.

She gives 100 percent of herself to her students and expects the same in return. She will even start a topic completely over until they all understand the information.

Her favorite part of teaching is that “click” moment where a student had been struggling, but finally, they fully get it. Also, seeing a student not only focusing on the medical side but realizing they must incorporate everyone involved since it is a child — the family is just as important.

She explained that for professors to be successful they must apply concepts from the book to the real world. “Why is this important to me, and not just why is this important, but what are the impacts of this and so spreading it beyond just that rote memorization — when you can bring it to that higher level, I think the students appreciate it more,” Vetter said.

Vetter has thanked all students who nominated her, cried in thankfulness, hugged them and plans to save the letters they wrote to always look back at. Although Vetter was clearly still speechless on the topic, she described it as humbling, out of the blue, inspiring and invigorating. She hopes to continue being impactful and taking it to the next step while continuing her teaching and practicing throughout her career.

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