When your 11-year-old daughter tells you she’s proud of you, you know you’ve done something right.
On April 26, Sarah Kuhnell’s very proud daughter—along with the rest of her proud and supportive family—will watch as she is awarded her master’s degree in nursing from the University of Cincinnati.
Born in Cincinnati and raised in Clermont County, Kuhnell was a first-generation college student when she first entered UC in the early 1990s. She was labeled "pre-med” and was awarded an English degree, but chose to get her master’s in education and became a teacher instead of pursuing medicine.
Not quite fulfilled, and with health care still very much on her mind, Kuhnell left teaching to become a nurse.
"Just because you have to work to put food on the table doesn’t mean you can’t also love your job,” Kuhnell says.
In 2006, she was accepted into UC’s accelerated nursing program—an option that directly admits qualified students to both the bachelor’s and master’s programs. She began taking the prerequisites needed for the bachelor’s portion of the training.
Kuhnell started slow. With two young children and 13 years separating her from her first steps on UC’s campus as an undergrad, she wasn’t convinced she could jump right in.
"I took one class at a time and told myself, ‘If I don’t get an ‘A’ taking just one class, there’s no way I can handle this,’” Kuhnell recalls.
The "A’s” came, and kept coming, and soon she was a full-time nursing student with a full-ride University Graduate School scholarship and research assistantship position.
Kuhnell finished her bachelor’s in 2011 and began working as an emergency room nurse at Mercy Health’s Clermont Hospital—a position and organization she loved—but said she saw so many people whose illnesses could have been prevented, or at least lessened, if they had just had primary care.
"I didn't want to just treat these terribly sick people; I wanted to prevent them from becoming so sick,” Kuhnell says. "I decided that I wanted to have a role in primary care—to be a family provider.”
In 2012, Kuhnell returned to UC to complete the master’s portion of her accelerated program. A three-month clinical rotation at Winchester Family Medicine in Adam’s County gave her the chance to develop relationships with patients and watch their progression and healing.
When she graduates, she’ll assume the title of family nurse practitioner.
Her journey hasn’t come without uncertainty or hardship. In 2013, as she entered her final year of the master’s program, Kuhnell was told her financial aid didn’t come through, and she was no longer receiving a University Graduate Scholarship.
Her husband had just gone into full-time ministry—a dream of his own—after serving for many years as the breadwinner so that Kuhnell could continue with school.
Devastated—and worried about finances and the down payment she’d just placed on her service trip to Guatemala with the UC Family Medicine Residency Program—Kuhnell turned to the College of Nursing’s assistant dean for student affairs, Krista Maddox, PhD, who was able to guide her to an application for the Roderick and Barbara Barr Scholarship.
The Barrs established the scholarship at UC in 2001 as a tribute to the excellent care provided to their close relative by a nurse practitioner.
Sure enough, Kuhnell met the criteria, and the funding from that gift allowed her to continue in the program. She was able to personally thank the Barrs for their support at the 2013 College of Nursing scholarship dinner.
"I just couldn’t believe that someone who didn’t even know me was willing to pay for me to go to school,” Kuhnell says. "It gave me the motivation to keep working.”
For Spring 2014, Kuhnell was once again supported by a University Graduate Scholarship and serves as a teaching assistant 20 hours per week. She was able to take a leave of absence from Clermont Hospital to maintain her academic and teaching schedules.
Her plan is to find a position where she’s able to provide primary care services to underserved rural populations.
She also has a passion for volunteering and, twice a month, offers health and nutrition counseling at the HealthStop, a program she founded within the Care Center at Northstar Community Church in Loveland. She regularly sees about a dozen patients each time the HealthStop is open.
Of her experience at UC, Kuhnell expresses nothing but gratitude.
"It’s like I’ve been pulled along—led—by a string. The College of Nursing has been so incredibly supportive and I just feel so blessed to have been able to go to school.”