Six Degrees of Nursing

July 14, 2010

It’s a small world after all…especially in the BMCC Nursing department.

Recently, BMCC’s Chairperson of Nursing, Jacqueline Nichols, spoke at the 1199SEIU Annual Recognition Ceremony, which honored various members who completed a fund-sponsored program between July 2009 and June 2010. 

1199SEIU Training and Employment Funds is committed to caring for the healthcare workers who care for others through programs and services that build better lives for their members.

The Recognition Ceremony was held at the Sheraton New York Hotel, and Nichols was invited to speak about her former student Esther Bowen (’09). Esther would not have been able to attend BMCC without the Joseph Tauber scholarship* she received from 1199SEIU. It’s the same scholarship her academic mentor, Nichols, received more than 40 years ago.

“Esther is a special nursing student who shared something in common with me,” said Nichols at the ceremony. “This graduate nurse and I were both supported by 1199 as a result of our mothers being members of the union.”

Like mother, like daughter

When Nichols graduated from high school in 1967, she went on to nursing school at Bronx Community College via the Joseph Tauber scholarship from 1199SEIU. Nichols was able to receive a scholarship to nursing school because her mother was a member of 1199.

Students of 1199 members who wish to pursue nursing careers are eligible for a scholarship if their parent is already a union member. 

Nichol’s mother, Mavis, worked as a nurse’s aid at Brooklyn Jewish Hospital (now called Interfaith Medical) for 20 years. Now 89 and retired, she was in the audience at the recent recognition ceremony, and Nichols acknowledged her from the stage. Fast forward 43 years and meet Esther Bowen.

Esther, who graduated from BMCC with Honors this December, always wanted to be a nurse. She was just 17 years old when she came to New York with her brothers and her father to live with her mother, Janet Bowen.

Janet was already living in New York, studying to be a nurse. It was hard to leave her family back in Trinidad, but Janet was determined to work in the States to provide her children with a better life. Upon her arrival in the States—she resided in Maryland before moving to New York—Janet received her GED and took technician and introductory nursing courses.

While working at Kingsbrook Hospital in Brooklyn, Janet became an 1199 member.  In 2005, Janet’s family was reunited in New York, and an 1199 scholarship led her to enroll at Hostos Community College as a nursing student.  

After becoming a U.S. citizen, Janet heard about a scholarship for the students of 1199 members. “My daughter Esther always wanted to be a nurse, so I brought Esther to an orientation, and the rest is history,” she said.

Mom and daughter study together

Mother (Janet) and daughter (Esther) enrolled in college at the same time—Janet at Hostos; Esther at BMCC. “My mom told me about BMCC and I heard it had a good nursing program,” said Esther, who worked as a private home attendant while taking classes.  

“I had Professor Jacqueline Nichols for Nursing for Today and Tomorrow. She taught us how to write resumes; and about the industry. I would go into her office and she’d always tell me I’d pass the boards,” recalls Esther.

“She kept me very motivated.”Nichols, as well as Professor Sung Gwak, taught Esther about “the real world; certain things you have to do in nursing,” said Esther. “Professor Gwak told me not to be a ‘robotic’ nurse—to learn to trust my instincts and think on my own.”

It wasn’t easy for mother and daughter to be in college at the same time. Thankfully, Janet’s husband and two sons were supportive of Janet and Esther’s “friendly competition.”

Mother and daughter would exchange notes and explain nursing concepts to each other. But at one point, Janet struggled in a course that her daughter “was flying” in.

“When I thought about dropping out of the nursing program, Esther would say, ‘No, Mommy, we have to graduate together’,” said Janet, honestly. “The encouragement she provided meant the world to me. With Esther’s help and a tutor, I finished that hard course with a B plus.”

Then came an even bigger surprise—both Esther and Janet passed their NCLEX State Board exams March, and are now registered nurses (RN).“I thought we would both pass,” said Janet, who found out they passed on the same day—Esther in the morning; Janet in the evening.

On stage at the 1199 ceremony, Nichols introduced Esther Bowen as “Not just Esther Bowen…she’s Esther Bowen, R.N.

From college to careers

“I felt like a weight was lifted when I passed the licensing exam” said Esther. “I was so happy.”

Esther is currently working as a full-time nurse at Staten Island University hospital. “I love helping patients when they need it the most,” she said. She plans to enroll at SUNY Downstate next fall, and eventually pursue a Master’s Degree in Nursing.

Mom Janet is currently working fulltime at Rutland Nursing Home (an affiliate of Kingsbrook Hospital) and pursing a BSN (Bachelor of Science Degree in Nursing) at New York City College of Technology.

Thanking Jackie

When Esther Bowen learned that Jacqueline Nichols received the same scholarship she did, 43 years earlier, “I could hardly believe it,” she said. The two had a chance to bond when Nichols presented Esther with an award for “Intelligence, Humor and Caring,” at a BMCC awards ceremony.

At the 1199 recognition ceremony, after being introduced in front of the crowd by Nichols, Esther said, “You are an inspiration to me and my generation of nurses.”

Esther also thanked her mother, of course, and nurses she worked with throughout her time at BMCC. “I learned a lot about the industry just by speaking with nurses I came into contact with in clinical” she said.

High school Jackie meets a special guest…

At the 1199 ceremony, Nichols shared a remarkable story with the audience. 

“I vividly remember my scholarship award ceremony as a highlight of my life because Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke and recognized me as one of the winners that evening. What an event that was,” she said. “At 17 years of age, I don’t think I fully understood the historical significant of that night. I remember that I shook his hand.”

That same year, Nichols’ picture appeared on the July 1967 issue of 1199 magazine. “My mother still has that magazine after all these years.”

Giving back to students

Nichols said that because 1199 invested in her to become a nurse 43 years ago—and Esther Bowen a few decades later—she was “honored” present an award to Esther on stage. 

She then explained her nursing background. After completing her Master’s and post-Master’s degree in Nursing, Nichols worked as a reserve officer in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps; retiring after 24 years of dedicated service.

“Today, I’m living out my passion for teaching as a Professor of Nursing and Chairperson in the Department of Nursing at BMCC,” she said.

Nichols offers words of encouragement to her students, reminding them that a professional career in nursing requires “lifelong learning.”

“I visit classrooms and chat with students in the hallway or meet with them individually. I let them know that I too walked in their shoes; that they should always believe in the power of positive attitude.”

Of the ceremony itself, in which Nichols, Esther and Janet spoke at the podium, Nichols said, “I was very proud of Esther as she shared her story, and to see that she and I had similar paths.  Her mother, Janet, was filled with so much passion as she delivered her speech that she really moved the audience.” 

*The Joseph Tauber scholarship program offers scholarships to children of eligible 1199 members who are attending a credited undergrad program and gives each student a jumpstart in their futures.

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  • Like her mother, BMCC’s Jacqueline Nichols’ pursued a nursing career.
  • Nichols’ and alum Esther Bowen both received Joseph Tauber scholarships.

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