For Kimberly Jellison, becoming a nurse is not just a dream come true—it’s a promise kept to her late husband, Eric.
“That’s why I want to get into hospice, because I was able to give my husband care when he passed away,” she said. “I thought, ‘This is what I was meant to be doing.’”
Jellison, who lives in Durango, Colorado, is well on her way. At age 56, she’s recently completed her Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) certificate and associate degree in nursing (ADN) with Pueblo Community College (PCC). Today, she’s working toward her Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree that will qualify her for higher-paying roles.
“I’m already in school mode, so If I want a BSN, I have to keep going or else I’ll never go back,” she said with a laugh.
Keeping a Promise
Jellison always wanted to go to nursing school but never got the chance until a few years ago. A self-described “Air Force brat,” she bounced around the country growing up, living in Florida and California.
She planned to study healthcare after graduating high school, but tuition proved too expensive for her family. So, she moved on with her life, meeting her husband in March of 2005. The couple settled in Durango, where she became a stay-at-home mom raising their two boys.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Her husband was diagnosed with liver cancer the same week shutdowns started, and his prognosis was grim.
“I figured out that he probably was not going to survive, and I needed to find some way to support myself,” she explained. “I decided to do the prerequisites for nursing school, and I got accepted into the program one week before my husband passed away.”
As Jellison cared for Eric in his final days, he urged her to keep up her training.
“He said, ‘I only want you to make me one promise: no matter what, you finish nursing school,’” she remembered.
Getting an Edge
Jellison kept her word, plugging away at her assignments and labs. She quickly excelled in the classroom, impressing her sons—now ages 19 and 32—with her top-notch grades.
“They are so proud, especially my youngest,” she said. “I’d come home and say, ‘Hey, I got an A on a test!’ He’s like, ‘Was there ever any doubt?’”
I want to be able to have my patients and their families know that I’m there for them. We can help you through the grief process.
PCC instructors Lyn O’Brien and Cleary Wunder took notice, too, encouraging Jellison to go for advanced degrees.
“[Wunder] told me, ‘You know, you’re writing at a doctorate level. You really need to continue doing this as long as you want,’” Jellison recalled.
Along the way, she received a boost from the Foundation for Colorado Community Colleges—which has awarded her scholarships two years in a row—as well as grants from the Colorado Workforce Development Center and the Durango P.E.O. chapter.
“It just gave me that little edge,” she said. “Last year, I didn’t have to work part-time because I got enough financial aid and scholarships that I could concentrate on nursing school. It gives me that stability that if something happens, I know this is paid for.”
So far, Jellison’s favorite experience has been the hands-on training she received during her LPN program.
“I got to do my preceptorship at Mercy Hospice House in Durango, so that was like icing on the cake,” she said.
‘Just Jump In’
As she wraps up her BSN, Jellison is eager to share her knowledge and compassion with others. Unlike other nursing specialties, hospice care allows her to treat the whole family, she said.
“I want to be able to have my patients and their families know that I’m there for them—not just for pain control, but if the patient needs a shower and shampoo, or if they want their hair and makeup done,” she said. “We can help you through the grief process.”
She also hopes to inspire other adult learners mulling a second or third career.
“Just jump in with both feet and do it. You’re smarter than you think you are, and you remember a lot more than you think you do. It comes back like riding a bicycle.”
If you are interested in applying for or funding scholarships for Colorado Community College System students, please visit the Foundation for Colorado Community Colleges website.