Inspiring grads: Norah Kilpatrick

Norah Kilpatrick
Norah Kilpatrick readies a test to give to a resident at Hotel 166 in August. (Joshua Clark/University of Illinois Chicago)

Even in the middle of a pandemic, Norah Kilpatrick is ready to dive into the health care workforce with her new MS in Nursing degree from University of Illinois Chicago.

Norah Kilpatrick

“The peaks and numbers are preparing me for joining an overwhelmed system. Nurses are definitely needed — there is so much going on right now,” said Kilpatrick.

In many ways, Kilpatrick has been preparing for her December nursing school graduation since she was a child.

“I was really into babysitting. I bought books on it. I got certified at Swedish Covenant Hospital. My aunt printed me business cards. I was really organized. I wrote notes to parents about what their kids did before bedtime,” she said. “Babysitting was a way to introduce me to wanting to taking care of people.”

Nursing wasn’t the first career choice for Kilpatrick, a native of Chicago’s North Side and a graduate of Chicago’s Jones College Prep High School. Wanting to keep her options open, she applied to schools with and without nursing programs. She landed at Northwestern University, planning on a pre-med major. She switched to pre-nursing her junior year, and her advisor, a UIC School of Public Health graduate herself, helped her select the right pre-requisites and successfully apply to UIC.

She attended nursing school orientation at UIC before her graduation from Northwestern and didn’t miss a beat.

“I felt good jumping in right away. I thought, ‘I’m ready to do this,’” said Kilpatrick.

Medical/surgical clinicals were a whirlwind that she enjoyed. She grew close to the other students in clinicals and was excited to finally be delivering care. Then community clinicals began and she started providing health education lessons at a juvenile detention center. She figured her previous experience working with youths at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab would help.

“I can confidently say I was unprepared,” said Kilpatrick.

But she says she learned the young men at the center knew a lot more than she thought they would about health education.

“We would adjust our health education lessons every week, and it was cool to see the group of young men there elate to us nursing students who were there every week. We built this relationship on health education, communication and personal relationships,” she said.

 After that experience she felt the pull toward community health.

That pull landed took her to the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic. She began working with the COVID Rapid Response Team led by UI Health’s Dr. Stockton Mayer, of the department of medicine, infectious diseases. Mayer, along with faculty and students from UIC began working with The Unsheltered Chicago Coalition to deliver COVID-19 testing to shelters, open living areas and senior housing. Kilpatrick tested people who were quarantined at Chicago’s Hotel 166.

“Everyone has a role to play in the pandemic. At first my role was uncertain. People in health professions graduate programs have set of skills that can be really useful,” Kilpatrick said. “I’m grateful I found the team and can give back to Chicago community.”

Working with other nursing students and one of her instructors, Kilpatrick and the team tested hundreds of Chicagoans and visited shelters, quarantine locations, encampment and senior housing multiple times.

“I see myself come alive when I do this work. I love community health, but I’m excited to see where it takes me. I learned a lot being on the front line,” she said.

It is her hope that her next step is to work in a hospital and return to school to become a midwife. Wherever she goes, her experiences have prepared her for challenges.

“It’s wonderful to go into nursing, but I don’t forget about my experiences before I came to nursing school. Everything you come to nursing school with is part of your tool kit,” said Kilpatrick.

She’s also excited to join the others in her profession.

“Nurses are just an interesting group of people,” she said. “When I’m on a team of nurses, I’m in awe of how many roles nurses play.”

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