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Dec. 12, 2003

"From M.D. to R.N" How One ULM Graduate Will Transition as a Professional

There will be several candidates for graduation walking across the stage to receive their diplomas at the fall commencement ceremony at the University of Louisiana at Monroe. Yet, only one will be putting 25 years of education and a career as a doctor behind her as she exits the stage. Brigitte (Brig-et-ta) Rainwater, a native of Germany, will receive the BS degree in nursing on Dec. 20th from ULM, after already having earned her M.D. and Ph.D. degrees overseas.

Brigitte stands out from her classmates for a myriad of reasons. For one, many freshly degreed students will be entering professional careers for the first time in their lives. In contrast, Rainwater has practiced Obstetrics (surgery and delivery) in Germany for a number of years as well as other parts of Europe and Africa. She is a seasoned professional. She is also a non-traditional student, graduating at age 54 and will be trading in her career as a doctor for one as a nurse.

Why would anyone step down from being a doctor only to have to study more in a foreign country to become a nurse? After practicing medicine for almost 10 years, circumstances changed when Brigitte met and married a man from Monroe, La.

Brigitte says once she got married and moved to the states, she knew practicing, as an M.D. would be out of the question, "Career-wise I knew I could not work here as a doctor," said Rainwater. Upon finishing medical school in 1975, she recalled some of her classmates had tried to come to America only to have to take more tests in order to practice. She says, "In a way, I would have been starting over, and the medical system here is so different than in Germany".

When she came to Monroe, she looked at job opportunities and noticed phlebotomists were in demand through the local newspaper. But, when she found out how much they were paid, "I was insulted," she said.

That is when ULM entered the picture. Her new sister-in-law had been through ULM's nursing program and highly recommended it to Brigitte. "I knew that ULM Nursing School had an excellent reputation, so I decided to try it, " said Brigitte.

"I met with Dr. Edwards (now retired) at ULM and she was amazing, we spent the whole day together and she checked on everything with my school credit. Then I surprised myself, my husband and everyone else by enrolling that very day. Spending time with Dr. Edwards made me realize that getting my nursing degree made sense," said Rainwater.

Since that fateful day, Rainwater has now completed three and a half years at ULM. Even with all of her medical training, only one semester of credit ended up transferring from Germany.

Rainwater is days away from getting her degree. "It feels really good. This last semester was really good and was a little more relaxing, I could do more things that I enjoyed like cross stitching and reading."

At ULM, Brigitte has found a place to belong. She has been a member of the Student Nurses' Association (SNA) since the Fall of 2001 and has been inducted into Lambda Mu Chapter of Sigma Theta Tau, International Honor Society of Nursing where she currently serves as a member of the nominating committee. She has participated as a member of several School of Nursing committees including Ethics, By-Laws and Policy, Drug-testing Policy committee and the curriculum committee. She was also the recipient of the Helen Cannon Memorial Nursing Scholarship for 2002-2003.

Of her ULM Professors Rainwater says she couldn't have asked for a better group to guide her in this journey. "They have been very very supportive of me and I would say, in general, they are very approachable they were really understanding and supportive of my situation. I couldn't have wished for better support."

The nursing staff is complimentary of her as well. Dr. Jan Corder, head of nursing said, "She has been an outstanding student of nursing and portrays all the qualities and values of nursing, i.e., compassion, caring, curiosity, autonomy, trustworthiness. We are very pleased to have her join our profession. I believe she will make a real and lasting contribution to health care in our area."

Brigitte is excited about working as a nurse in the area. In fact, she already has a job offer at Saint Francis Medical Center in Monroe. Though she knows it will be an eye- opening experience. "In Germany nurses don't draw blood. The job description of an R.N. here is completely different than in Germany. A nurse's position there is less demanding. The responsibilities of a nurse here are higher; they take care of many things that a physician does in Germany," said Rainwater.

After all of her hard work in school, one wonders if she will one day try to become a physician in America. At first, Rainwater says, "I was overwhelmed by it all, I didn't really look past graduation, but I will never say never." She learned her lesson when, once finished with medical school in 1975, she said she would never have to take another class again.

Talk to her now and she says, "I am completing 25 years of education and I am ready to work and do something that I enjoy doing."

She looks to the future with a zest for life and says Monroe has become home, though she does go back to Germany every year at least once. As a holiday treat this year her mother, who lives in Germany, will attend her daughter's graduation and spend Christmas in Monroe.

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