Aurora BayCare Medical Center presents thousands in scholarships to UW-Green Bay nursing students

Story by Syd Morgan, UW-Green Bay editorial intern

On Wednesday, September 20, Aurora BayCare Medical Center, in collaboration with UW-Green Bay, held an award ceremony for nursing students who received scholarships through the Aurora BayCare Medical Center’s “Inspire” and “Future” nursing scholarship program. Tracy Fuller, Nursing Director of Aurora BayCare Medical Clinic, welcomed students, faculty, and community members to the event. In her address, she spoke on the importance and value of nurses to the individuals and families that seek care at Aurora BayCare Medical Center. She said that “nurses are central” to everything they do at Aurora BayCare, and encouraged the nursing students present to continue their paths.

Heather Schroeder, Chief Nursing officer with Aurora BayCare, also spoke on the history of Aurora BayCare and UW-Green Bay’s collaboration with the nursing program. The planning for the UW-Green Bay prelicensure nursing program began back in 2017 with ideas for a “concept-based curriculum.” By fall of 2019, the first pre-nursing students started, and the first cohort of nursing students graduated in spring of 2023. Schroeder ended her remarks by commending the nursing students, saying, “you are all turning passion into profession.”

Many of the students in attendance shared that they chose the nursing profession to make a positive impact on their community and help others. Many students also attributed their pursuit of the field to those that had inspired them, some citing parents that were nurses, or nurses that had helped them through a crisis. There were students of all levels receiving scholarships, ranging from first year students to seniors.

One student, Joshua Willis, received his second Aurora BayCare scholarship at the event. In true Phoenix fashion, Willis’ journey to become a nurse was transformational, and shows his resilience and tenacity. After high school, Willis considered a career in nursing, but as he put it, “life got in the way.” He ended up working two jobs and school wasn’t an option.

However, the biggest barrier to his nursing dream was personal. Willis described that he struggled with alcoholism for years, and his struggles came to a head. “I had the potential to lose everything, and so I checked into a residential rehab facility in Green Bay. I went through their program, and I’ve been in recovery ever since.”

A year after his rehab, Willis found himself working in manufacturing and remarked, “it was dirty and dark. Everyone was mad, and I hated it. I knew I had to do something, and being a nurse came up again.” He thought, “why not me, why don’t I deserve better for myself?” He resolved that he was in the best place emotionally, mentally, and physically, and decided to go for it. Ultimately, Willis is “grateful for where I’ve been, and where it’s gotten me.”

UW-Green Bay Nursing student, Joshua Willis

Willis said he was also inspired to become a nurse by other nurses and medical staff. “After the birth of my first son, I started to really consider nursing. Aurora BayCare in Two Rivers, and the nurses and medical staff there, were so helpful and caring.”

Eleven years later, Willis feels ready to rise and become a nurse, and realize the dream he has had for most of his life. When he graduates in 2025, he aims to be a labor and delivery nurse, so he can be part of that “moment of joy” that initially propelled him into joining the UW-Green Bay nursing program.

For students, including Willis, scholarships mean they can dedicate more time to their education as opposed to working more hours. These scholarship dollars from Aurora BayCare give students support and affirmation to do their best in the UW-Green Bay nursing program, propelling them into their dream careers.

The scholarships also address the increasing nursing shortage in Wisconsin, which has only accelerated during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. At the current replacement rate of graduating nurses, it is estimated that the shortage of registered nurses in Wisconsin will increase to nearly 20,000 (35 percent) by 2035.

The collaboration between Aurora BayCare and UW-Green Bay is helping to prepare the workforce and be a part of the solution. Through the support of UW-Green Bay nursing faculty and staff, in coordination with Aurora, nursing students can positively impact the nursing workforce shortage in our region while fulfilling their goals to help others and their communities.

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