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Meet the 2021 UTHealthLeads Cizik School of Nursing fellows

Pictured (L-R): Lauren Carlson, Kristi Keen, Nataliya Romanyukha, Cassandra Twinning
Pictured (L-R): Lauren Carlson, Kristi Keen, Nataliya Romanyukha, Cassandra Twinning
Pictured (L-R): Lauren Carlson, Kristi Keen, Nataliya Romanyukha, Cassandra Twinning

Editor's note: This is one article in a series highlighting the students participating in UTHealthLeads.

UTHealthLeads is a one-year student fellowship program to develop future leaders in health care.

In the program, UTHealth Houston students learn how to develop self-awareness, increase their leadership confidence, lead others, and effectively influence systems.

A total of 24 UTHealth Houston students — four students from each school — make up this year’s cohort. They will be provided opportunities to network with leaders, develop fundamental skills, and commit to actions to continue their growth.

Meet the 2021-22 UTHealthLeads fellows at Cizik School of Nursing at UTHealth Houston:

Lauren Carlson

Carlson grew up in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and received her BSN from the University of Wyoming in 2018. She and her husband live in Magnolia with their pug, Bugs. She enjoys traveling to see family, staying active, and exploring Houston.

What brought you to nursing?

“I have always had a heart for helping others and a love for learning. When I was a freshman in high school, my grandfather passed away after a battle with heart failure — I will never forget the impact nurses had on my family during that time. After this experience, I decided to pursue a career in nursing and it has been one of the best decisions I have ever made.”

What are you hoping to gain from this program?

“One of the best parts of health care is the collaboration of interdisciplinary care, and UTHealthLeads offers the opportunity to create these connections with other professionals. I am excited to continue to challenge myself, grow in my leadership skills, and learn from those with advanced experience and knowledge.”

Where do you hope to be in 10 years?

“In 10 years, I hope to be a practitioner in a family or pediatrics clinic providing care at the primary, preventive level. Although I am still deciding my best fit within specialties, I have always loved cardiovascular nursing and can see myself working with this patient population. I also have a goal to return to school for my DNP during this time.”

Kristi Keen

Keen is a wife, mother, flutist, and nursing student. She graduated with a Bachelor of Music in 2005 and a Master of Music degree in 2009. She has been performing with the Rapides Symphony Orchestra and Lake Charles Symphony Orchestra for nearly 20 years. She became a birth doula and childbirth educator in 2011 and has assisted over 100 Houston families as they welcomed their babies into the world.

What brought you to nursing?

“I felt inspired by the amazing labor and delivery nurses I had the privilege of working alongside during my work as a birth doula. I saw what a difference an attentive and caring nurse could make in my clients’ birth experiences. Because most people are unable to have a birth doula accompany them during childbirth, I recognized I could help more people have positive birth experiences as a labor and delivery nurse that I could as a doula.”

What are you hoping to gain from this program?

“I hope to learn how to communicate with my peers as well as with those who have influence over hospital policies. I would like to be able to present research to those who can enact policies that would assist families in having more positive birth experiences. I have heard during my studies that nurses are expected to help their patients by advocating for safe practices, especially when it comes to medication safety. I hope this program can help me advocate for patients with confidence.”

Where do you hope to be in 10 years?

“Many of my clients have asked me if I want to be a midwife one day. I felt called to birth work as a doula, and I felt called to pursue nursing. I suspect that it is only a matter of time that I will feel called to midwifery. If I do not feel the call to midwifery within the next 10 years, then I hope I am working with families as a labor and delivery nurse. I also hope I am still performing in concerts, just as I have been for the past 20 years.”

Nataliya Romanyukha

Romanyukha was born and raised in Ukraine and first came to the United States in 1998 as a foreign exchange student. She earned a bachelors degree in economic crime investigation from Hilbert College in Hamburg, New York. Her professional career has been mostly in the field of oil and gas. She is currently pursuing another bachelors degree in nursing.

What brought you to nursing?

“I am the mother of a precious girl who has a very rare genetic neuromuscular syndrome. My daughter and I spent 71 days in the NICU, and this was the time when my admiration for medicine and nursing took root. I had experienced a profound reevaluation of my life that led me to this career change.”

What are you hoping to gain from this program?

“UTHealthLeads presents a great opportunity to learn more about leadership, improve my interpersonal skills, and acquire new capabilities, as well as become a better health care professional. I would like to refer to John Quincy Adams’s quote: “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” Every leader needs their toolbox to make this happen, and this is where UTHealthLeads comes in.”

Where do you hope to be in 10 years?

“I hope to be working as a nurse in Neuro ICU, earn my PhD, and be involved in research in the field of neuroscience. I am also interested in joining academia and teaching nursing curriculum.”

 Cassandra Twinning

Twining is going into her third semester at Cizik School of Nursing in pursuit of a Bachelor of Science in nursing. She is from Dripping Springs, Texas. She has a corgi named Hashbrown and a mutt she rescued recently named Sprout.

What brought you to nursing?

“Growing up on a farm, I had a lot of experience with raising and caring for livestock. If you have experience with animals, you know they are always getting hurt. I was always right there with my dad helping him take care of our animals and tending to their wounds and was never bothered by any of the ‘gross medical things. As I got older, I knew that medicine was going to be the place for me. I was fascinated by the body and how it works, I loved the fast-paced nature of the profession, and like a lot of you I’m sure more than anything, I love helping people. Nursing truly is the perfect combination of all of my passions, and I am beyond ecstatic to be able to be pursuing it here in the Texas Medical Center.”

What are you hoping to gain from this program?

“I am really hoping to gain some professional and personal connections with people. My mom always makes fun of me and how much of a natural networker I am just because of how talkative I am. However, this has served me so well in the past because of the amazing connections I have made throughout my school years. I am very excited at the opportunity to meet people who share my passion for medicine and helping people.”

Where do you hope to be in 10 years?

“In 10 years, I would like to be living in Austin, Texas, again; I truly love it there, hopefully close to my twin sister. I also would like to have completed my BSN to DNP degree and be working in a hospital as a nurse practitioner while also doing research on the side! I love learning and I never want to stop, and I know that if I am in this profession, I’ll never have to. I am not sure yet what specialty I want to pursue, but I know I want it to be one that is very hands-on with lots of patient interaction. I’m excited to see where the next 10 years take me, and I’m open to any curves life may throw at me.”

Sarah Kaddour

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