Nursing student stays on track to follow her dreams

Allyson Joyce

Allyson Joyce, UIC’s 2014 Lincoln Academy of Illinois Student Laureate, graduates in May from the College of Nursing. “It’s given me a really great foundation for nursing,” she says. Photo: Joshua Clark


Even as a fifth-grader, Allyson Joyce knew exactly where her life was headed.

That was confirmed one day during her senior year of high school, when she received a letter in the mail from her 10-year-old self — sent by her elementary school — confidently announcing that she would someday study nursing at UIC.

“It was really weird, but I loved that I was on the same track,” said Joyce, an Honors College student and senior in nursing.

“My aunt studied nursing at UIC and I was just fascinated by her stories, that you could travel the world and help people.”

Joyce also knew she wanted to get involved at UIC. For her efforts doing just that, she was named UIC’s 2014 Lincoln Academy of Illinois Student Laureate. She was honored in a ceremony Nov. 1 at the Old State Capitol in Springfield.

“When I found out, I was extremely excited and I dropped my phone,” she said.

Joyce leads a busy life, but she wouldn’t have it any other way. She wakes up each morning and reads a quote that’s been posted near her bed since she was little: “What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?”

“If I’m not busy 24/7, I feel like I’m wasting my life,” she said. “I feel guilt, just knowing that I could be helping others. Being busy means I’m doing something productive.”

Allyson Joyce practices nursing skills on a dummy patient

“I’ve learned so much from all the top hospitals in Chicago,” Joyce says. — Photo: Joshua Clark

Joyce spends one day on campus taking classes, then two days a week at a clinical rotation. She recently completed seven weeks in pediatrics at the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital and her next rotation will be in women’s health at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center.

“It’s extremely challenging, but I’ve learned so much from all the top hospitals in Chicago,” she said. “It’s given me a really great foundation for nursing.”

After she graduates in May, Joyce plans to apply for a doctorate program with the goal of becoming an acute pediatric nurse practitioner in oncology. Others often ask her how she could handle the sadness that comes from working closely with young cancer patients and their families.

“I know I can do the job well enough to make their life better,” Joyce said. “I’ve helped a lot of patients who have had cancer and I find it the most fulfilling to be able to help them.”

She already has experience helping children who are ill through her role as president of UIC’s Alternative Spring Break student organization. She’s been on many service-learning trips with the group, but among her most memorable is a trip to New Jersey last winter, when she and other UIC students stood outside in blizzard-like conditions collecting money for the Pediatric Angel Network. They raised $3,000 in 10 hours.

Joyce’s group also bought $500 worth of toys and dressed as elves while delivering them to children who had terminal illnesses and their siblings.

“Seeing the child’s face light up was amazing,” she said.

Another Alternative Spring Break trip that stands out was creating after-school programs for elementary-school children in Florida. She and 10 other UIC students spent a week volunteering for a school in St. Petersburg.

“The area was very downtrodden and the school was behind a gate with barbed wire on top,” she said. “The students said they felt most safe when they were at school. They spent 12 hours a day there.”

Joyce started a karate class that students could take after school to build their self-defense skills. Three years later, the school still offers the program.

Joyce has the skills to teach self-defense — she spent 11 years working toward a black belt in Shotokan Karatedo.

“All my friends ask me to be their bodyguard downtown, or walk them home from the library at night,” she said.

At UIC, Joyce is president of the Student Nurses Association, senior representative of the Health Professions Student Council, committee chair of the Student Fee Advisory Committee and a mentor for the Ignite Leadership Experience.

In summer 2012, she founded the Support Spencer Foundation, an organization that supports research on Guillain-Barre syndrome. She founded the group after her friend’s brother was diagnosed with the autoimmune disorder that causes paralysis.

“It’s very rare — there are only about 100,000 cases in the world,” she said. “I knew he wasn’t being treated at the right hospital — he needed to be at a teaching hospital where someone would look for new cures, new ideas.”

In just one summer, Joyce worked tirelessly to raise $17,000 so he could go to Lurie Children’s Hospital, where he was successfully treated.

“They are using the cure on other children and knowing that gave me hope,” she said.

Joyce spends her free time exploring Chicago or spending time with family at home in St. Charles. She comes from a family of entrepreneurs.

“I’m the stray cat,” she said. “My dad asks me, ‘So when are you going to be the CEO of Northwestern?’ I keep telling him, ‘No, I want to be with the patients.’”

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