Graduate student will continue fighting COVID-19 after earning doctorate degree

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with corrections and clarifications.

This semester’s speaker for the graduate school is Caitlin Phelan, whose hometown is Dupo, Illinois, and lives in Glen Carbon, Illinois. Phelan will be graduating from the Doctor of Nursing Practice program and works in healthcare for the Veterans Affairs St. Louis Health Care System. 

Phelan said the COVID-19 pandemic changed her role in her job overnight. 

“It has been an experience that I will remember for the rest of my life. When the pandemic began, my role as a nurse practitioner in occupational health changed overnight … When COVID arrived, my job quickly shifted toward the field of public health, with an emphasis on surveillance, contact tracing and case management,” Phelan said. 

Phelan is one of the healthcare professionals making plans to provide the vaccine. 

“This week, my team will begin the process of administering the COVID vaccine to our employees. I consider it an honor to be a part of this historic milestone in the fight against COVID-19, but we still have a long way to go,” Phelan said. 

Before her time fighting the pandemic, Phelan had a wide range of experiences at SIUE, including working at the campus Starbucks and as a graduate assistant in the School of Nursing’s Simulated Learning Center.

“I feel like I’ve grown up at SIUE in a way, because I’ve completed three degrees there and have worked in a variety of roles there over the past 17 years, from working as a student manager at the MUC Starbucks to working as a graduate assistant to eventually teaching for the [Family Nurse Practitioner] program,” Phelan said. “I’ve learned valuable lessons from every experience I had along the way.”

Nursing instructor Bernadette Sobczak co-taught a class with Phelan. 

“She definitely had some good feedback that she provided to students. She was always really good and prompt on getting back to them on issues … She was a great faculty member when she worked for us,” Sobczak said.  

Nursing Professor Emerita Jacquelyn Clement was Phelan’s research chair. 

“I found her to be delightful. She was very cooperative, very professional. I could tell she wanted very badly to do the very best job she could. She was stretched very thin, in terms of she had a lot of responsibilities on her plate, and she was committed to doing an excellent job on all of them,” Clement said. 

Phelan said having completed her personal goal of earning a terminal degree, she is excited to see what the future holds. 

“I am a family nurse practitioner and currently practice in occupational health, which I will continue to do … I believe that [the Doctor of Nursing Practice program] has helped me prepare for a future as a leader in health care, and I look forward to seeing what comes next,” Phelan said. 

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