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Sisters share the challenges of graduate education

Lyndsy ’11 MSN and Laurie ’06 BSN, ’11 MSN Wittmer, sisters who completed their master’s degrees together to become pediatric nurse practitioners.


Many adult learners appreciate the benefits of the “buddy system” when returning to school. Being able to share the challenges of advanced education as life swirls around you can mitigate stress and aid learning.  It’s not often that family members connect in this way but at the 2011 Winter Convocation were unique “buddies” in the Wittmer sisters-- master’s degree candidates in the pediatric nurse practitioner (PNP) specialty.

The Wittmers were all smiles on December 14 as they reflected on their experience. Laurie Wittmer, ’06 BSN, ’11 MSN, RN, had thought about graduate school and was familiar with Villanova as an undergraduate alumna. When sister Lyndsy Wittmer, ’11 MSN, RN, approached her, she realized they could attain a huge goal together.  Both are nurses at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) where the Graduate Nursing Program offers on-site core courses.

“I always knew that I wanted to go back to graduate school to pursue a degree as an advanced practice nurse. I was originally inspired and still plan to pursue the post-master’s in education,” explains Lyndsy. “However, I also was drawn to the world of primary care. I was inspired to get to know well children since my experience at CHOP has been with oncology and bone marrow transplant patients who are very ill. I love the aspect of continuity and really empowering families and children throughout the lifespan.”

Lyndsy knew going through school would be tough but both sisters recognized the convenience of being able to go to class after working shifts at the hospital—a  perfect way “to get things rolling toward achieving our degrees”  they acknowledge.

No, they are not twins as some classmates initially thought, nor are they shy about voicing opposing opinions and sharing humor as faculty learned. Laurie, 20 months younger than Lyndsy, notes that there were many challenges in graduate school but her sister understood what she was going through.  “I think it brought the best out of us since we already get along very well,” she says. “We were always able to ask each other questions and motivate each other in studying. It was wonderful having that support throughout the program.”

Laurie, a nurse in CHOP’s Gastroenterology, Endocrinology and Metabolism department for the past five years, has added to her staff nurse role and is one of the nurse educators for patients and families heading home with diseases or conditions such as Crohn's disease, diabetes, or feeding difficulties. She knows graduate school has already helped her expand her active role in education and management for families who experience chronic illnesses in the out-patient world. Having obtained her degree in a primary care specialty, she notes “With both of these experiences I feel that I am at a perfect point in my career to be able to work as a PNP. Maybe one day I will transition out of patient care and teach like Lyndsy will, but for now my primary goal is to work with patients to increase my knowledge.”

Lyndsy is now working towards a post-master’s certificate in nursing education as she continues in oncology at CHOP. She wants to use her PNP skills and eventually teach undergraduate nursing students. “I have a true passion for helping nursing students see the ‘big picture’ and how vital their role is as a healthcare professional,” she says. Lyndsy, who availed herself of opportunities at Villanova to serve underserved populations internationally, values her own experiences of getting out of her comfort zone and seeing healthcare all over the world. She wants to help students gain this perspective as well. She explains, “I believe nursing is more than a job, it is a true calling. At the rate and pace of healthcare today it is vital to preserve the true art of nursing and continue to instill these values to future nurses. I hope to empower students to see themselves as a true advocate for their patients and a key part to healthcare delivery.”  

Lyndsy was the student speaker for the Winter Convocation. Building on the pediatric experience that she and her sister shared, she challenged her fellow graduates gathered in the St. Thomas of Villanova Church to “see the world as a child—remain open, be creative and believe in change.”