Loyola University Chicago

Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing


A final exam in treating the human condition for nursing students

A final exam in treating the human condition for nursing students

Jennifer Zitzner teaches her Anatomy and Physiology lab in the Life Science Building on January 26, 2016. Jennifer's previous class is honoring her mother's fight with cancer by doing Relay for Life in her honor this spring. (photo by Natalie Battaglia)

By Erinn Connor

This past semester, Jennifer Zitzner, PhD, from the Department of Biology mixed her personal life with her teaching life and was rewarded with a heartwarming surprise from her students.

While Zitzner’s mother was battling uterine cancer, she decided to use her mother’s experiences as a teachable moment for the Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing students in a Clinical Microbiology class.

“As her cancer has related to the immune system and microorganisms, I have shared some of her journey with the students,” Zitzner said. “For me, this was nothing out of the ordinary since I often share stories of my family. However, the nursing students took it to heart.”

Zitzner’s commitment to wanting to see her students succeed in what is traditionally a challenging course made them want to do something special for her and her family.

“Zitzner’s class has been different from other classes because she has specifically catered the class to our interests and future profession,” said Christine Wimberly, a sophomore nursing major and president of the Nursing Student Council. “This is one of the first ‘nursing’ classes undergrads are exposed to. Zitzner specifically constructed microbiology around the diseases and microbes we would be encountering in hospital settings and the treatment and prevention we would be expected to perform.”

Near the end of the semester, the class presented her with 41 handwritten notes of support and encouragement to be given to Zitzner’s mother. The unexpected gesture brought Zitzner to tears. She said it helped her mother’s outlook on her radiation treatment.

 “I have tried my best every lecture to give each of my students the education they need to be successful nurses” Zitzner said. “What they have done for me and my family has taken the expansion of knowledge that Loyola strives to provide and transformed it into the care for others that I believe Loyola means when it describes a ‘transformative education.’ They are not yet practicing nurses, but the care and compassion they have exhibited makes them the embodiment of the Loyola experience.”

They also told her that they will walk in honor of Zitzner’s mother in the upcoming Relay for Life in April in the Gentile Arena. Her students also dedicated a luminary in her honor, a paper bag containing votive candles that feature the honoree and are lit after dark at the Relay for Life event.

Before their final exam, Zitzner wanted to be the one to surprise her class. Normally, to ease her students’ nerves, she would play a stress reliever video of her children having fun. This time, it was a video of her mother thanking her class for their support and sharing that she would be there to meet them at Relay for Life. Zitzner and her mother also stated they would like to be in the audience for their nursing school graduation in 2018 to support the students along with their friends and family.

“After reading the handwritten notes, she decided to make the video, picked out her best hat and best shirt, put on a little bit of makeup—and felt good,” Zitzner said. “When I played the video there were few dry eyes in the house.”

To participate in Loyola University Chicago’s Relay for Life along with the nursing students, sign up here.