School of Nursing alum Debbie Ketchum began a three year term on the board of directors for the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses last month.
This national organization advocates for the care of women and newborns and supports the nurses who work with them. Ketchum, who graduated with her Doctorate of Nursing Practice in Leadership in May 2022, is the first board member ever chosen from the state of Idaho.
“The education provided as a [Doctor of Nursing Practice] elevated my ability to participate in a national-level board,” Ketchum said. “I’m so honored.”
On a day to day basis, Ketchum works at St. Luke’s Health System as the director of nursing practice. She partners with a range of clinical teams to provide subject matter consultation and coordinate nursing professional practices, scope of practice and professional development.
But nursing leadership wasn’t always on her radar.
‘Everything is about giving’
“I had no idea growing up that I would ever be an Army nurse, but it was – it is still – essential to every decision I make today,” Ketchum said.
After completing Army ROTC in college, Ketchum commissioned as a nurse officer in 1994. She spent five years on active duty before continuing to serve in the reserve until 2011.
It was during her years of military service as an Army nurse that she discovered how to give through servant leadership.
“You’re giving to your nation, you’re giving to your patients, the soldiers, and the communities,” she said, “Everything is about giving.”
“Being in [obstetrics], there were families that were separated during life altering events, and telehealth and virtual care was just beginning. The nurses and healthcare teams became essential support systems,” Ketchum said. “Many are displaced from their family, and we became a family.”
That mentality of selfless giving and familial support followed Ketchum for the rest of her career.
Discovering another kind of family
Ketchum wanted to earn her doctorate so she could “continue to positively impact healthcare and support policy and population health initiatives.” So in 2019, she began pursuing her doctorate at Boise State, fulfilling her dream of earning her terminal degree in her home state of Idaho.
“It was pretty very impactful in my life and especially at a critical time,” Ketchum said.
When COVID-19 hit, her cohort quickly had to learn to be “adaptable and flexible” on top of added pressure at work and “so much moral distress.”
As her cohort grew closer and supported one another through the demands of schoolwork and the pandemic, they “became family and essential support,” Ketchum said. The doctoral program encourages collegiality within cohorts, which Ketchum said is a particular strength of Boise State’s program.
“It was such a light, working with the professors and the students,” she said. “Getting the crucial constructive and positive feedback expanded my depth of knowledge and helped me see what my potential is.”
Before graduation, Ketchum’s professors reminded the students: “You have a responsibility to be at the table and advocate for your profession and for your colleagues.”
Ketchum takes that responsibility seriously.
“I did not get a degree for the letters. I got a degree for a purpose,” she said.
For now, that purpose is leading nurses in Idaho through St. Luke’s Health System and supporting them nationally through the Association of Women’s Health and Neonatal Nurses.