It’s been a big couple of years for the nurses of the world.
First, the pandemic pushed the profession—and all frontline workers—to the brink, hurrying on a shortage of nurses that persists today. That’s why National League for Nursing (NLN) President Dr. Beverly Malone declared 2022 the year of the nurse educator.
Now, with construction of the new Cummings School of Nursing & Health Sciences underway, and with the College expanding its educational and career pipeline for nursing students, it’s educators like Jessica Ochs who will lead the way for future Gulls in nursing.
Ochs, an Associate Professor of Nursing, was one of five other nurse educators who recently received the NLN’s Nurse Educator of the Year Award. The honor, conferred at NLN’s September conference in Las Vegas, was given for Ochs’ impact and inspiration on the Endicott community.
“It’s exciting because the award is a big deal and I love teaching—and I feel like I spent most of my life trying to always be better at it,” said Ochs.
But teaching was once far from Ochs’ mind.
She grew up wanting to work internationally for the U.S. government.
“That was my ultimate goal,” she said.
At Tufts University, she studied international relations with an economics minor. “I wanted to be that free spirit who has to travel and roam the world,” she recalled. “After traveling a bit for job interviews, I realized I don’t like to travel, I prefer to be home.”
Ochs worked in finance for a few years, but that wasn’t quite right either. The monotony of finance life ate at her.
As a kid growing up in and around Boston, Ochs had been surrounded by her mother—still a nurse, even in her 70s—and her mother’s nursing friends.
“I love them all,” said Ochs, “but I didn’t grow up wanting to be a nurse. That was not what I wanted, but somehow I landed in nursing. Funny how that happens.”
She bolted from finance, enrolled in an accelerated nursing program, and began working as a nurse. While working, she simultaneously pursued a master’s degree, became a nurse practitioner, and “haven’t looked back,” she said. She eventually earned a doctorate from Northeastern University.
That’s the short story. The long story? It was a difficult process.
“Nursing is so different than anything—than the philosophy courses I took, the creative writing classes, or other coursework in the past. I wasn’t expecting that. I thought it was going to be easier. I remember crying a lot,” she said with a laugh. “And my mother’s like, ‘Shut up, you’ll be fine.’”
Undertaking that rigorous coursework made Ochs both frank and empathetic as an educator.
“I’ll often tell my students, ‘I know it’s tough. I know you’re stressed out. I know it’s a lot. But this is important,’” she said. “And I’ll tell them why it’s important. Because when you’re taking care of a patient that starts to have a seizure on you, you need to know what to do.”
Before Ochs turned to teaching, she was burning out working long hours in the ER. When she saw a job teaching at Lawrence Memorial/Regis College in Medford, Mass., nearby where she happened to be moving at the time, she knew she had to apply.
“They hired me, even though I had zero experience teaching,” she said. “But as soon as I started teaching, I knew that this is where I belong. It was the best experience for me.”
She spent six years in the program before coming to Endicott.
“Our nursing program is unlike many others, anywhere. Endicott students have the opportunity to start taking nursing courses their freshman year, and that does not happen anywhere else,” Ochs said. “They get to go abroad if they want to and really experience college life without interrupting or prolonging their college career.”
Ochs is also excited about the new Cummings School of Nursing & Health Sciences building—in part because she’ll be in the heart of campus.
“The way that the new Cummings School is being designed with the simulation space in the rooms will be a great experience and a great opportunity for students to learn,” she said. “We’re very lucky. But honestly, nursing is nursing and we could teach it anywhere. And all of our faculty are wonderful—we could be in a tent and we would still make it work.”
Teaching may be Ochs’ main squeeze, but she’ll never fully give up nursing.
“I work per diem on the weekends because I can’t let it go. I love caring for patients and talking to them and educating them. And I do a lot of good when I work,” she said.
Above else, it’s doing good and making a difference that she wants her nursing students to understand the most.
“It’s really a privilege to be able to care for people at their most vulnerable,” she said. “We’re there to provide service, but we’re invited into special moments, whether it’s the birth of a baby if you work in maternity or the death of someone you love. I always remind students that as much as it’s hard work, it’s also a privilege, so they don’t take that for granted.”