(Written by Kelyn Klein, development and business services coordinator for American College Health Association. Story originally posted on the American College Health Foundation’s website.)
“When I grow up, I want to be just like my mom.” It’s something most moms want to hear, but few will actually get to see happen, at least in the way that it did for Karen and Julie Yingling. For the past 41 years, the University of Findlay Cosiano Health Center has been run by a Yingling, and the school wouldn’t have it any other way. Since the Yinglings have been in charge of the Health Center they created a women’s clinic, started a health fair, created a cutting-edge wellness program for faculty and staff, and championed for Findlay to become a tobacco free campus. It is safe to say that their journey has impacted many generations of college students.
When asked how it all started, and how Karen got into nursing, she chuckled. “Well, when I graduated you had three occupations to choose from – secretary, nurse, and teacher. I didn’t want to do the other two, so I became a nurse.” She worked in hospitals and doctors’ offices until her kids were in middle school, at which point she decided she wanted to stop working nights and weekends and be able to be there for her daughters. She saw the opening at Findlay, went in to interview, and the next day had a job as the only nurse at the school.
At that point, Karen was able to see about 10 students a day. She spent a lot of time writing protocols and getting the basic structure solidified. Karen is adamant that there wasn’t a single day she didn’t want to go to work. “The greatest achievement you can have as a nurse in a college setting is to help each and every child; they still are children until they go back out the door in four years, to give them a little more sense of themselves and how to take care of themselves in a healthful way. There are little things that you can teach each and every one of those students that you see. It’s challenging but it’s fun. I just enjoyed every day.”
Karen was present during technology and student cultural shifts and worked to keep up to date on best practices. In 1998 she had a student come into the health center to ask if he could make a program to manage their records for a class credit. She worked with him to get down the basic needs (relatively easy without third party billing), and he created the system that her daughter Julie still uses to this day.
Julie grew up with a mom who never missed an event or game thanks to her position in the Health Center. When it came time to pick a college, Julie opted for Findlay since she could get free tuition through her mom being an employee. They didn’t have a nursing program, so she graduated with a degree in biology. She taught high school biology, physiology, and anatomy, and coached sports. “The human body always interested me, and I just kept feeling like I was being drawn to nursing,” she said. So she went back to nursing school and got her RN and started pursing her nursing career, first on the medical surgical floor in pediatrics at the hospital, and then 18 months later in labor and delivery.
When Karen announced to Julie that she was leaving Findlay, it seemed like it might be the right time for a move. After over 12 years working 12-hour shifts and some weekends at the hospital, the idea of having a schedule that would allow her to be more available to her children seemed ideal. Now was the perfect time to switch paths and enter the field of college health.
“I always valued the mom that I had, in that her work in college health allowed her to be at my athletic events and to be totally present in my life. Her kids were in junior high when she got the job at Findlay, and my kids were in junior high when I got it. I will always been home for the holidays and weekends. You can’t put a price tag or a value on that. College Health let me be the mom that I valued,” Julie said.
Karen pitched the idea of Julie taking over the Health Center to Findlay administration after announcing her retirement. Julie had worked in the Health Center from time to time over the years, and the staff and faculty were already familiar with her. The school held interviews, but Julie was the clear choice. She became the Director of the Health Center, and Karen became her employee on a part-time basis for three years.
When asked what it was like for her daughter to be her boss, Karen laughed. “I thought it was great. We do a lot of things the same way. I was pleased when she got the position because I knew she would take it to the next level. I’ve been very proud of what she’s done. When I started there was just one lone nurse, and now it’s a huge staff.”
Julie replied, “I always had the utmost respect for my mom and what she did with health services. She took it from a one-woman show with 10 visits a day to having a doctor, part-time nurse, and an administrative assistant, so she got the ball rolling. She developed it into a respectable, professional, great place to receive healthcare.”
This sentiment is why Julie opted to nominate her mom to be an ACHF Foundation Star after reading about the program in the May issue of The Impact. Karen was an active member of Ohio College Health Association and served as the Region III Representative for the ACHA Board of Directors (a position which Julie also went on to hold). Karen is a big supporter of both regional meetings and the national meeting, “OCHA and ACHA have wonderful conferences. They gave you the feeling when you came back that you were doing things ok.” Honoring her as a Foundation Star was an opportunity for Julie to celebrate Karen’s achievements with her peers.
When asked if we will see a third generation managing the Health Center at Findlay, the surprising response is “maybe.” Allison, Julie’s daughter, is currently following in Julie’s footsteps and working in labor and delivery with the same nurse who Julie worked with during her time at the hospital. “Whenever somebody says something to her about it, she just smiles, all 23 years of her, and says, ‘Oh, I don’t know.’” Only time will tell.
“I think nursing is in me and who I am. It truly makes me the person that I am,” Julie said. “I’m just really proud of my mom and of my daughter. I’m proud of where we work. I just had the pleasure of hiring a nurse who paid me the best compliment: ‘The University of Findlay is where people want to end up from the nursing profession.’ To hear her say that, to say that we are the goal – that started long before me and it’s a really cool seed that my mom planted. Our team really tries to be the good in small ways and in big ways, and we want to be the good, for one student, for all students.”