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Life After LEAD: Naomi Nichols, ’20

We catch up with one of our former LEAD Scholars.
Read time: 2 minutes

I CONSIDER MYSELF A PLANNER. I LIKE TO HAVE A VISION OR idea of what I want my days and life to look like. Throughout undergrad, my postgraduate plans were already in the works: I would apply for a new grad internship in the pediatric intensive care unit (ICU) at U-M’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. As a backup, I would apply for a job on the pediatric floor where I already worked at Mott. And I had backup plans beyond that.

What I couldn’t see coming was a pandemic that would change everything I thought I wanted for myself.

After graduating and passing the National Council Licensure Examination so that I could officially become a registered nurse, my next task was to find a job. Because of financial issues caused by COVID-19, all of the new grad programs, and hiring in general, were frozen. I even started interviewing at out-of-state hospitals. Luckily, I didn’t have to pick one of those.

I chose a job at a small, community hospital in Kalamazoo, Mich., in a level 3 neonatal ICU. The more I go to work, however, the more I feel as though this job chose me. Every day—well, night, actually—I have the honor of taking care of the tiniest, most medically fragile babies in the region. I’m often so amazed and inspired by how strong these fighters and their families are. As a nurse, I get to be bedside with parents and loved ones while they experience the constant ups and downs the ICU brings.

Often, our patients are there for weeks, sometimes even months. Within this time, my job is to care not only for the babies, but also their families. It takes a lot of trust to leave your child’s life in a stranger’s hands. One of the favorite parts of my job is the responsibility I have to build a relationship and bond with the families so they feel comfortable leaving their baby’s care to me. This takes time and patience, but the work is so fulfilling.

I remember the excitement I felt the first time a parent told me they were happy that I was their child’s nurse for the night. Now, it’s a feeling I strive for whenever I clock in. I get to be a listening ear on good and bad days, to educate first-time parents, to problem solve and advocate for my tiny humans who can’t speak for themselves—and their families, who can’t find the words to express their needs and desires. Though my work can be physically and mentally exhausting, I recognize the difference I make and I don’t take that responsibility lightly.

With every new milestone hit, these babies show me there’s nothing a little resiliency can’t tackle. With each shift I work, I strive to model that for my own life. As I assist these babies with transitioning to life outside of mom, they also assist me in becoming a well-rounded, capable nurse.


The LEAD Scholars program provides scholarships to Black, Latinx, and Native American students who have been accepted into U-M. Visit umalumni.com/LEAD to learn how you can support the program and, thus, help create a more diverse campus.

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