Heather Balmer | Charge Nurse, Liberty Commons Rehabilitation Center

Heather Balmer | Charge Nurse, Liberty Commons Rehabilitation Center

Year of the Nurse Scholarship Recipient

At 18 years old, Heather Balmer was convinced her future was in finance. “After high school, I started working at one of our local banks, but that environment didn’t fit me as much as I thought it would,” says Heather, who was largely raised in North Carolina. A bank client who owned an animal hospital invited her to work for her, which turned into five years in the job. “I absolutely love caring for animals. And after a while, I started thinking maybe I would also enjoy caring for people.” 

Seeking options in her area

The one college option in Heather’s rural area of North Carolina is Halifax Community College, and luckily for her, it has a nursing program. “I enrolled in 2001 and enjoyed it from the start,” she says. Heather started working at Halifax Regional Medical Center as a unit secretary, and when she graduated in 2004, took a job as a cardiac unit nurse. For the next 12 years, Heather stayed at Halifax, other than a three-year period where she and her husband moved to Maryland for his job. There, she worked as a travel nurse, something she has done part time on weekends in addition to her full-time job.

Eager to learn and grow

In 2017, Halifax Regional was going through an acquisition and Heather was ready to try something new. “I joined Liberty Commons, a long-term rehabilitation center, and it was good for my growth to transition from an acute care setting to a long-term care setting, which I’d never done before,” she says. Her next big challenge: returning to school for a BSN. 

Years before, Heather had taken some prerequisite classes at her local community college for a bachelor’s program, but without a four-year school nearby, she was stalled. “I was starting to think about becoming a clinical educator, because I really enjoy the teaching part of nursing,” she says. “But I’m a busy mom and nurse and just set the idea aside when I couldn’t take any more classes locally.” 

Opening doors in the future

Heather came to the realization in 2019 that a BSN was important for her career. “I noticed during my time doing travel nursing that the BSN is not just a nice-to-have; it is a requirement in many places,” she says. She started doing research into online BSN programs and found American Sentinel University. “I liked how organized the university is and I reached out to them and several other schools and American Sentinel was in touch with me immediately.” Heather got started in May 2019. 

Year of the Nurse Scholarship 

This year, Heather applied for the Year of the Nurse Scholarship and learned she was a recipient in July 2020. “I cannot describe how it felt,” she says. “All the hard work I had put in for the prior 10 months was paying off and I just felt honored and excited to be a strong enough student to receive this scholarship.” 

More motivated than ever

Heather will graduate in October 2020. “I’m thinking a lot now about what I’ll do in the future, and I am excited about clinical education, community health and getting involved in our local health department to help with things like disease prevention and patient and staff education,” she says. 

At American Sentinel, Heather continues to feel supported. “I don’t know why I held off on school for as long as I did, but I’m so glad I went for it,” she says. “American Sentinel is set up in a way that works for people like me. I can work school around my crazy schedule and still gain so much from my classes. It is relevant course work to a community and clinical setting. I’ve been so pleased and I’m now almost to the finish line.” 

The World Health Organization (WHO) has designated 2020 as the “Year of the Nurse and Midwife” and American Sentinel is celebrating by offering a Year of the Nurse Scholarship. Several scholarships are awarded per quarter in 2020. Congratulations to this quarter’s recipients. Learn more and apply here

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