Serving patients – and families – lifts APSU nursing student to Vandy award
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Serving patients – and families – lifts APSU nursing student to Vandy award

Austin Peay nursing student Hunter Burkhart won Vanderbilt University Medical Center's Credo Award in the critical care track during a summer internship at the hospital.

When Hunter Burkhart was 8 years old, his dad suffered a heart attack. When Hunter was 9 years old, his dad suffered a stroke. 

Those events arrested life for Hunter and his family. They spent weeks in the hospital, caring for his father. The memories will never fade.

But that time in the hospital also left an indelible mark on Hunter.

“The nurses who were there, they took care of us,” he said. “My dad was pretty sick, and they tried to make me feel better.”

Those days in the hospital, when Hunter was 8 and 9 years old, were when he first realized he wanted to be a nurse. The desire clung to him through high school and brought him to Austin Peay State University, where he’s set to graduate from the nursing program in December.

Signs point to Hunter being a top-notch nurse too.

Vanderbilt University Medical Center awarded him one of its top honors, the Credo Award, during its summer internship program. He earned the award by exhibiting Vanderbilt’s core behaviors – among them making those you serve your highest priority – at the hospital’s Vanderbilt Experience: Student Nurse Internship Program, or VESNIP. He won the award working with critical care patients.

‘I want to be there for them’

One theme recurs when Hunter talks about nursing: “Make lives just a little bit easier” for patients and their families – and on fellow nurses. 

“I just want to do what I can,” he said. “I want to go above and beyond with the families, because I’ve been in that situation, with having family in the hospital.

“It really hits home, and I want to treat them how I was treated back then.”

Back then, nurses gave him a Popsicle while his dad lay suffering in a hospital bed. Hunter has gotten to pay forward the favor multiple times, and he will hundreds of times in the future.

But one patient stood out this summer at Vanderbilt.

Austin Peay nursing student Hunter Burkhart won Vanderbilt University Medical Center's Credo Award in the critical care track during a summer internship at the hospital.

In Hunter’s words: “There was one patient I had this summer in the ICU at Vanderbilt who wasn’t doing well, and his family decided to stop life support. It was hard to see how the whole family was taking the death of their family member. 

“I wanted to stay there with them in case they had any questions about what was going on or if they just wanted someone to talk to. I wanted to be there for them.

“That experience motivated me to not forget about the family when you’re working with the patients. You’re not just working with that one patient, but you’re also trying to take care of the whole family and the patient.”

The connection hit Hunter hard.

“I mean it really reinforced everything I came into this program at Austin Peay for,” he said.

“It brought me back to that moment when (the nurses) would always ask if I wanted a Popsicle, just something small, not really that big a deal.”

VESNIP Critical Care Track lead supervisor David Collier hands Burkart the Credo Award.

Austin Peay nursing students at VESNIP

Participating in Vanderbilt’s VESNIP is a big deal.

APSU sent 16 nursing students to the prestigious summer internship, and as you know, Hunter Burkhart won a Credo Award in the critical care track.

This is the 13th year of participation in VESNIP for the Austin Peay School of Nursing. VESNIP provides intense clinical experiences for select senior-level nursing students.

Under the guidance of Austin Peay professor Dr. Amy Hamlin, the VESNIP internship offers students opportunities to work alongside expert nurse preceptors within assigned specialty tracks. The VESNIP positions are competitive and considered elite opportunities for students from around the region.

APSU sent 16 nursing students to the prestigious summer internship.

Hunter’s future

Hunter’s dad recovered from the heart attack and stroke and continues to improve.

The nursing student wants to work in a medical intensive care unit after he graduates in December before returning to school to earn his master’s as a nurse practitioner or anesthetist. 

APSU nursing school and the Vanderbilt VESNIP are “a great foundation to start my career. I feel like they’ve helped me pave my path.”

“Austin Peay nurses really do make some great nurses.”