Peer Mentors Ease Stress for New Nursing Students

(l-r): Kelsey Asimus, Shannon Lemke and Trisha Doherty

Peer Mentors Ease Stress for New Nursing Students

| By: Britten, Casey

Ask any nurse. Nursing school is no walk in the park. Anatomy & Physiology. Pharmacology. Nursing Assessment Skills. Balancing school, family, work. Technology.

It’s… a lot.

In the Nursing Associate Degree program at Fox Valley Technical College, a peer mentorship program seeks to relieve some of the initial stress those first semester students experience. First semester students are paired up with third semester students who have been nominated by faculty. The mentors volunteer their time to work with new students as they enter the core program.

“Our first semester students are typically overwhelmed while taking three heavy courses, learning new medical language, the different software and resources in the program, and starting the career as a nurse,” explains FVTC Nursing Instructor Jennifer Zernzach.

Jennifer and fellow instructor Sally Schultz co-lead the mentor program. “The mentor provides a friendly face in their corner while navigating all of this,” Jennifer adds. “Some students really don't have any family or friends who understand what they are going through. Our third semester students have been in their shoes and succeeded.”

The program has been successful. In fact, many of the students who have been mentored during their first semester students have found it to be so valuable that they in turn volunteer to be mentors in their third semester.

Trisha Doherty is one of those mentee-turned-mentor students. “The program really boosted my confidence in the beginning, so I wanted to turn around and pass the baton,” she explains. Prior to nursing school, Trisha worked in sales and marketing for a building materials company. In 2021, her son had his second open heart surgery, and the nurses were a source of strength and inspiration to her. “The nurses made a big impact on how we got through that. I signed up at FVTC three days after we returned home!”

As Trisha advanced in the program, she decided to become a mentor. During the Fall 2023 semester, she met Shannon Lemke and Kelsey Asimus who were also career changers with young children at home, so they were experiencing some of the same challenges.

“Nursing has always been a career I have been interested in, as I find medicine and the human body fascinating,” Shannon explains. “I have also always enjoyed helping people, so nursing felt like a great fit since it combines all those factors.” She decided to enroll in nursing school after spending several years working in an office setting. “As I became older, I really took stock on how I wanted to spend my life and I felt strongly about pursuing a career I could be passionate about and proud of.”

Kelsey spent nine years working as a dental assistant before becoming a stay-at-home mom. However, she also felt drawn to nursing, so she revisited the idea of nursing school during her time at home. “I decided it was finally go-time. I’m so excited to be on this journey!”

As new students, Kelsey and Shannon appreciated having someone in their corner. “Starting in the nursing program was intimidating, but Trisha was extremely encouraging and relatable,” Kelsey explains. “She had been in my shoes just a couple of semesters ago and knew exactly how I felt. It was almost like she could read my mind with the concerns I had. Having her insight was invaluable!”

Shannon adds, “Trisha and I really connected because of our similar backgrounds. She was always a listening ear and provided the best advice. The first semester of nursing school is extremely overwhelming and having someone who was in the same spot a short year ago is very motivating and encouraging.” 

“I enjoyed being able to help alleviate some of the fear and stress that comes along with first semester,” says Trisha. “I am extremely thankful for Jennifer Zernzach and FVTC for fostering this program.”