Nov. 10, 2022

Class of 2022: Nursing grad student awed by people of Ukraine during humanitarian relief tour

Sarah Nixon joins Samaritan’s Purse disaster assistance team for a month, doing ‘whatever job is needed at that moment’
Sarah Nixon with a patient and physician Chris Brandenberg from Indiana.
Sarah Nixon with a patient and physician Chris Brandenberg from Indiana.

UCalgary Nursing’s Graduate Certificate program was created for people like new alumna Sarah Nixon, who graduates this week with her Master of Nursing degree.

A wife, a mother of two with a satisfying career as a clinical instructor, she saw the certificates, with their combination of in-person and distance learning, as “the perfect opportunity to start graduate studies” and still manage her busy life. But then, as Nixon tells it now, another amazing opportunity presented itself and she had to grab that chance as well. 

“I originally went into nursing with the desire to be able to help people all over the world but, besides a small trip to Ecuador early in my career, I have primarily been focusing on work here,” Nixon says now. But when Samaritan’s Purse Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) made a call for more staff for their COVID-19 response in early 2020, Nixon felt called.

“I didn’t go anywhere at that time but had the opportunity to complete my DART training in May 2022 and then deployed to Ukraine in June.” 

With the support of her “amazing husband (a full-time high school teacher and the best dad ever to our kids) who managed everything at home,” and her parents who flew to Calgary at different times to help out, Nixon spent June in the war-scarred country.  

“The people of Ukraine are amazing and the local medical staff I worked with were the strongest people I have ever met,” says Nixon of the experience.

“This is their home and they are scared, but they also showed up every day to continue to do the work and help people, and seeing that puts a lot into perspective," she says. 

I worked as an emergency/ward/community/charge nurse/whatever else kind of nurse was needed because I learned, with humanitarian work, you have to be willing to be flexible and do whatever job is needed at that moment,.

“I also had the opportunity to go out with a mobile response team a few times including to a local orphanage and that was an unforgettable experience." 

“The people there were always so appreciative and we received a lot of boxes of chocolates as thanks: it always blew my mind what they were going through and yet they were so thankful (and often surprised) that we were there. I worked nine night shifts in a row when I first got there so I ate a lot of chocolate and joked with my husband I was going to come home plump and pale (the field hospital was in very dark setting)!” 

Nixon says faith and family sustain her. “I am blessed to have what I do, live where I am and be able to complete this type of degree while still living life and serving others. And it wouldn’t have been possible for me to have travelled if not for the support of my family and even my professors who were also willing to make accommodations so that I could serve the people of Ukraine.

"That support is how I was able to finish this degree because of everyone’s encouragement and support.” 

But returning to school to complete her degree was challenging, despite that support. “I was burned out in one way but also rejuvenated in another and I was excited to almost be done school (for now!),” Nixon explains.

“But it was difficult sometimes as I didn’t want to let anyone down and I still put that pressure on myself now to make sure that completing this degree will lead to something or I will feel like I put my family through a lot for no reason. But though the future is not 100-per-cent set in stone, I am excited about the possibilities and the open doors that would not be there if I hadn’t taken the step to complete this degree. I thank God for the opportunities he has provided and the incredible people he has placed in my path to make this last three years, especially the final spring and summer semesters, a success."

Nixon with husband Ryan and children Everly (four) and Elijah (six).

Nixon with husband Ryan and children Everly, 4, and Elijah, 6.

Nixon hopes to one day become a professor and teach future nurses in the classroom setting. “I still have this plan to teach, but after taking courses including those focused on education, leadership, and research, I am excited about many different possibilities for future work now that I have an MN,” she says.    

As for graduate studies, Nixon says, “Go for it. I know one thing that can hold people back is not being 100-per-cent certain what you will do or accomplish with that graduate degree, but that is also what makes it exciting. I have learned so much, made incredible connections and I am inspired to do so much more than I was before completing this degree.” 

Entrepreneurial UCalgary grads make an impact in health care, culture, law, business, the environment, and more. Read more stories about Class of 2022 students.

A note for soon-to-be UCalgary Alumni! As you prepare to transition from student life, we encourage you to check out our Life Kit for Recent Grads – custom built to inform you about the programs, benefits and services available to you as a member of the UCalgary alumni community.

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