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Nurses Can Go Anywhere: Nursing education prepared one alumna for a successful business career

Posted: March 4, 2013

Norine Yukon holding a pencil

Some people save their mortarboard tassel, some save the commencement program, but very few can say they still have the pencil they used on all their scantron tests.

But Norine Yukon (BSN ’78) can.

The former psychiatric nurse turned health insurance CEO visited the School of Nursing recently and shared her thoughts about the intrinsic value of a nursing education, particularly at the University of Texas at Austin. And just why she saved that stub of a pencil for all these years.

Her journey to becoming a nurse wasn’t particularly straightforward. As a freshman at the University of Texas at Austin majoring in psychology and sociology, Yukon worked in the office of her cousin, a surgeon, and even shadowed him on hospital rounds. He encouraged her to consider a career in health care, particularly nursing. Until that time, Yukon admits she had no idea what nurses really did, thinking they were merely mechanical, on hand to take orders and certainly not expected to make rapid-fire critical decisions.

Then one day in the ICU she observed nurses going about their “routine” of caring for patients and their families, dealing with lab reports, treatment orders, complex machines and devices, and a multitude of medications. She also saw them taking charge in emergencies and saving lives, all with humility and grace.

“As I watched them in life and death situations, I thought ‘How brilliant, how resourceful they are!’” she said.

Her burgeoning understanding of what it meant to be a nurse was confirmed when she went to work as a ward clerk.

“Within hours, I realized that nurses were not only smart and sharp, but were looking at situations broadly enough to be sensitive to families and many other issues impacting the patients.”

Her mind made up, Yukon enrolled in the School of Nursing, where she says she spent the two most intense years of her life. But it’s also where she learned to think differently, to broaden her perspective, and eventually to generalize that knowledge to almost any problem in the clinic, in business and in life.

Norine Yukon

Norine Yukon (BSN ’78)

After graduation, Yukon worked for 10 years as a psychiatric nurse, where she discovered the importance of relating at a core level with the patient as well as the family constellation. It’s also where she began to be intrigued with the health-care delivery system.

“At the rate health-care costs were trending up, I could tell there was going to be a great divide,” she said. “There were going to be more and more people without access to health-care coverage, and the system would need to change to be more efficient and to promote quality outcomes. The School of Nursing taught me to be a change agent, and I saw a lot in the health-care delivery system that needed change.”

Yukon made the leap from clinical to managed care in 1987, going to work for an insurance company in utilization management and quality assurance. Confident that she, as a nurse, was well positioned to help the health-care system be more robust and to help people stay healthier, she learned the business quickly. It wasn’t long before she was promoted into management and was overseeing health plans from Arkansas to New Jersey.

“Nurses have a broad spectrum of health education, including how the environment, nutrition, exercise, sleep, and other personal behaviors impact physical and behavioral health,” said Yukon. “This biopsychosocial knowledge puts them in a position to holistically help not only individuals, but communities at large. And that’s important, because the healthier the community, the healthier the individual; and the healthier the individual, the healthier the community.”

She credits the education she received at the School of Nursing with enabling her to succeed not only in the clinical setting, but also in the insurance business arena, where she is able to make an even greater impact on the health-care system and how people gain access to it.

“The University of Texas at Austin is one asset of Central Texas in which residents should take a lot of pride. Many leaders have been developed there,” Yukon said. “In particular, the School of Nursing educates individuals to make a difference, not only with individual patients, but with the health and well-being of the entire community. In small ways and large, we have an opportunity to change the world for the better.”

And why exactly has she saved the pencil all these years?

“I had so many wonderful instructors at the School of Nursing,” Yukon said. “I used that pencil in all my tests to demonstrate that I had learned the lessons they taught me. I have kept it over the years as a reminder to always listen, to focus, to persevere and to give back.”