School of Nursing alumnae Caroline Hoefert and Lindsey Fencel have traded their soccer cleats for scrubs, and are now exchanging the flat landscape of Southern Illinois for the Sierra Nevada mountains.
The transition to a cardiac telemetry unit in a Nevada hospital, which is currently serving as a COVID-19 unit, is something both said they couldn’t imagine without each other.
“The process of driving across the country and going somewhere totally unfamiliar would be so much less desirable if I was by myself,” Hoefert said. “It is a new hospital, it is a new area, but having the comfort of someone else from home doing everything that you’re doing, going through the same obstacles, definitely makes the whole process a lot easier.”
While they worked at different hospitals after their Spring 2018 graduation, the former teammates eventually ended up on different floors of St. Mary’s in St. Louis. During their time apart, Fencel said the two did not lose sight of their goal to do a traveling nursing assignment together.
“We always talked about doing this traveling assignment,” Fencel said. “It got delayed a little bit more than we had planned, but then it all just started falling into place.”
The two were friends even before coming to SIUE, having played soccer together since they were around 12 years old. When high school hit, the pair played on opposing teams, since Fencel is from Bethalto, Illinois, and Hoefert is from Godfrey, Illinois. However, Fencel said their time at SIUE really solidified their bond, as they shared classes, a sport and living space.
“It was hard to time manage,” Hoefert said. “With our nursing classes, I remember instances where we would have to miss practice and make up that practice or weight lift — just us two — because a clinical or lecture couldn’t be rescheduled.”
In fact, the rigorous nature of nursing programs leads some colleges and universities to not allow student-athletes to major in nursing.SIUE Women’s Soccer Head Coach Derek Burton, who coached Fencel and Hoefert, said the School of Nursing’s top-ranking status serves as an advantage while recruiting.
“I’ve always believed that we have a great nursing program for a reason, and if someone is attracted to SIUE partially because of that program and part of it has to do with soccer as well, then … it’s very hypocritical of me not to use that as a recruiting tool,” Burton said. “I’m willing to adjust and make concessions in places for that reason, because I want those players in our program and I’m not going to exclude players that we would like to have in our program just because of their academic interests.”
Both Fencel and Hoefert acknowledged being a student-athlete enrolled in the School of Nursing was no easy feat and agreed it would have been even more difficult without each other.
“We were very blessed and lucky that with what we’ve been through, we’ve been able to do it together,” Fencel said. “I’m the type of person who likes to have someone going through the same thing as me; it just makes it less stressful and easier knowing you have someone. Not everyone does get to go to college with a best friend, but if you can find a teammate, or someone that you know is going to be as dedicated as you, working together on things just really makes the whole process easier.”
In addition to their classroom and clinical education, Hoefert said many skills she and Fencel learned in soccer are also essential in their professional careers.
“I would say the aspect of teamwork and time management is crucial in the nursing field when you’re on the floor working with your coworkers and asking for help,” Hoefert said. “That’s an everyday necessity.”
Burton said athletes’ ability to adjust to new teams stands out in the job market at large, but proves to be especially valuable in Fencel’s and Hoefert’s cases.
“[Fencel and Hoefert] are used to being new in a group,” Burton said. “Specifically with travel nursing, they’re two people coming across the country, joining a group of people in a hospital that they don’t know … and then making an impact in that group and jumping on board and working towards [the group’s] goals. I think all of those things translate from being an athlete on the soccer field to being an effective healthcare giver, and certainly, in their situation, being a travel nurse for sure.”