From Patient to Caregiver
December 1, 2016
Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago medical staff once saved Ellen Vandewalker’s life. Now, Vandewalker ’16 is back at Lurie saving lives as a nurse.
Vandewalker was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia at age eight. The cancer, which affects bone marrow, is rare in children. She entered Lurie for treatment and continued a relationship with hospital staff through follow-up visits after the initial successful stay.
Hospital staff inspired her by their compassionate care. She decided she wanted to follow their example by pursuing a medical career and perhaps work at Lurie one day.
“Caring for patients with cancer and their families is something I take seriously because I know what it feels like to be in that hospital bed,” Vandewalker said. “There is nothing more rewarding than impacting patients’ treatment and care the same way people helped me when I was a patient.”
Vandewalker realized her childhood dream shortly after graduation. She felt fortunate to join the team at one of the nation’s top pediatric facilities — especially the one that saved her life.
“Working at Lurie is such a major accomplishment that I’m still in disbelief that I work there,” she said. “It’s incredible to work at a hospital that is well-known, and even more special that I’m part of the same staff that helped me.”
Bradley’s nursing program set the foundation for Vandewalker’s success. She explored pediatric care through internships, practicums and classroom projects when she had freedom to choose her focus.
She developed situational analysis and leadership skills through two summers as a nurse intern for a summer camp. A project teaching girls about self-esteem and body image created meaningful relationships with youth. She then previewed her career choice during a senior year practicum at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital affiliate in Peoria.
“My time at Bradley gave me an overwhelming sense of hope and accomplishment that affirmed I was in the right profession,” Vandewalker said. “I knew I was in the right place because my professors taught me the essential nursing skills I needed to help people I naturally connected with. I wouldn’t be where I am today without them.”