Alum Profiles

Melissa HorningMelissa Horning

Major: Nursing

Graduation year: 2006

Hometown: Chokio, Minnesota


Why did you choose nursing?

During my senior year of high school, my grandma was terminally ill with cancer. When my sister and I would visit, the nurses would tell us how grandma was doing and then ask how we were doing. The nurses cared for her and my entire family compassionately; they helped us find beauty and comfort through that most difficult time. They inspired me to make a difference, and I entered the nursing program at CSB/SJU. Nursing allowed me to bridge my love of health sciences, caring for others, and social justice.


What path did you follow to arrive at your current job and how did the CSB/SJU Nursing Program prepare you for the field?

Because of the liberal arts focus and the high caliber of the CSB/SJU nursing program, the culmination of my learning at CSB/SJU extended beyond the classroom and into the voice studio, in late night conversations with good friends about life, on spring break service trips taken to help children in schools of low-income neighborhoods, and into the clinical settings where I cared for patients every day. 

In the nursing program, the professors were excellent and opportunities abounded. I designed and implemented a phenomenological research study of the experience of families who are told during the pregnancy their baby will die at birth. In one interview, a father described the grief of picking out a casket and music for the funeral, when pregnancy is supposed to be such a joyous occasion; by the end, tears were streaming down our cheeks. Through this intimate research experience, I have been reminded how crucial empathy is to nursing, while learning the importance of research and evidenced based practice as well. I also had the opportunity to study abroad and complete my public and mental health clinical rotations in South Africa; after this experience, I knew that my heart would forever be in public health nursing.

After graduation, I started at Stearns County Public Health, then became a Community Health Volunteer with the Peace Corps in Uganda, and then went to Brown County Public Health. The nursing program at CSB/SJU prepared me to be a nurse in each of these positions. From planning and implementing a mass vaccination campaign, providing nutrition education in the Women Infant and Children (WIC) clinic to being the lead nurse in a correctional health care setting, I have embraced the wide variety of experiences that working as a Public Health Nurse has offered. My primary focus was promoting the health of at-risk and underserved pregnant women, children, and families both on home visits. Through holistic nursing assessments, my clients and I set goals and planned interventions for health promotion using best practices as guides. With one pregnant client, resolving food insecurity was greatly needed. After meeting that basic need, we worked through the daily struggles of mental illness combined with pregnancy, found and utilized supportive community resources, and ultimately improved the health of mom, baby, and family.

Working with underserved individuals and communities, both locally and internationally, has allowed me to gain a valuable and practical understanding of the work of a public health nurse. This work is directly shaped by the needs, environment and culture of the community and client, the local public health leadership, political infrastructure and funding sources. In precepting new nurses and nursing students in the field of public health nursing, I was compelled to emulate my exceptional professors at CSB/SJU, who inspired me to follow my passion for public health and to strengthen nursing practice through research. Thus, in the fall of 2011, I began my doctoral studies in the BSN to PhD program in the School of Nursing at the University of Minnesota.

Currently, I am a Research Assistant and work on a research trial called HOME Plus, which aims to prevent and reduce the impact of childhood obesity by increasing family meals, teaching families how to cook together, and improving the healthfulness of the foods and snacks available at home. I will soon be starting my dissertation (a very, long research project), which will assess why parents and their 8-12 year old children buy the foods that they buy.

This currently is my last semester of my PhD coursework, and the absolute highlight of my semester has been my mentored teaching practicum experience with Dr. Lu Reif, as she continues to be one of the best professors I have ever had (although all professors at CSB/SJU are top notch). Dr. Reif is an excellent mentor and is a constant source of inspiration. When I am finished with this degree, I hope to be an exceptional nursing professor. Had I been told when I graduated that this is where I would be right now, I would not have believed it. But CSB/SJU prepared me to follow my passion and allowed me to learn and build the tools I needed to get me where I am going - I'm grateful.


What is your most significant challenge in your field?

There are many significant challenges in nursing; however, the one I will highlight here is this: It is much easier to see health problems once they have developed. As a nurse you can care for and help patients manage these problems in the hospital and the clinic settings. It is much more challenging to address disparities in health and prevent health problems before they have started, especially those related to social determinants of health. We must address this challenge through intervention and research to prevent health problems and promote health at the individual, community, and national levels.


What advice do you have for nursing students?

Follow your heart: when I came to CSB/SJU, I thought I would be a hospital nurse for a while, and eventually, move into hospice nursing. But, then I discovered my passion for public health nursing and I knew that I did not want to be anywhere else. The field of nursing has SO many opportunities, both inside and outside of the hospital, so be sure to find the nursing position that makes you come alive, that makes you feel like you can make a difference, and that makes you believe work is fun!