Kimberly Udlis, Ph.D., FNP-BC
Kimberly Udlis, Ph.D., FNP-BC
College of Nursing
by Hannah Opacich and Alyssa Volkman
Student Features Reporters
On the wall of Kimberly Udlis’ office is an untitled poem written by a patient on July 22, 1994. On that day, the patient had been told by his physicians that he needed open-heart surgery, after a less invasive procedure had failed. Udlis, then barely one year out of nursing school, held his hand after he was given the news. They talked a bit about the surgery, joked a bit about their favorite hockey teams and then she finished her night shift.
“It wasn’t anything special or out of the ordinary,” says Udlis, now an advanced practice nurse prescriber at Agnesian HealthCare in Fond du Lac, Wis., and an assistant professor of nursing at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh.
But to that patient, Udlis was special and her care of him was extraordinary. In the poem, the patient wrote the following:
|Dr. Udlis with her mother, Patricia Noble.
“...when in my sadness I reached out
and you took my hand and comforted me.
Once upon a time happens frequently in fairy tales and infrequently in life.
And this is one of those times.
You touched my life,
And I’m the better for it.”
Almost two decades have passed since Udlis cared for that patient, but she can recite those lines from memory. For her, that poem serves as a framed reminder of the importance of what she does as a nurse practitioner and teacher.
“It’s what I see when I walk into my office right behind my desk. It reminds me that everything you say matters or what you don’t say, sometimes, matters,” she says. “What was like such an insignificant moment to me had great impact on someone else. ”
The Healing Profession
Udlis grew up in Sault Ste. Marie, a city of 75,000 in the province of Ontario, Canada. Her father worked for the Canadian government and was the local administrator for Ontario’s Ministry of Community and Social Services. Her mother was a branch administrator for a life insurance company.
While both parents wholeheartedly supported Udlis and her brother’s educational journeys, Udlis credits her mother for instilling in her a passion for nursing. Her mother, Patricia Noble, rose from an entry-level job at an insurance company to become a top executive. But, she says, her mother really wanted to be a nurse, but had to defer that dream when her father, Udlis’ grandfather, died unexpectedly when she was a child. With her formal education ending at high school, her mother found another avenue for the nursing dream.
|In this video, University of Wisconsin Oshkosh instructor Kimberly Udlis, Ph.D., FNP-BC, tells what her favorite part is about being a nurse, what qualities she thinks makes a good nurse, and how her teaching is enhanced by her real world experience as a nurse practitioner. Video produced by student features reporter Noell Dickmann.
“I can remember my mother always saying, ‘My daughter’s going to be a nurse, she’s going to be a nurse,’” Udlis says. “I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know the word, ‘nursing.’”
However, when she was about 11, the idea of it being a valued profession came to the forefront. She had encountered two nurses who were caring for her grandmother. One was pleasant and kind; the other was not. “I remember wanting to be in a position someday to make a patient feel as special as the kind nurse did,” she says.
Udlis had always been a strong student and had a clear vision of her future. During orientation in her pre-nursing program at Lake Superior State University, one of her professors asked the future nurses, “Where do you see yourself in 10 years?”
Udlis responded without hesitation. “I’ll be Dr. So-and-So. I’ll be married to somebody so I’m not sure what my last name will be, but I’ll have a Ph.D.”
All this from some fresh-faced freshman.
After graduating with her nursing degree, Udlis worked in a cardiac unit and later, in the intensive care unit.
She later earned her master of science in nursing degree with family nurse practitioner emphasis and her family nurse practitioner degree from UW Oshkosh in 1999. Two years later, she returned as a faculty member when Rosemary Smith, Dean of the College of Nursing, asked if she would be interested in teaching. Udlis was interested and has been teaching at UW Oshkosh since.
Through her unwavering focus, Udlis did fulfill her bold declaration. She earned her Ph.D in Nursing from Marquette University in 2009 and became Dr. Udlis. She married Seth Udlis, a family physician in Fond du Lac in 1996. Udlis has a stock answer ready when people impolitely question her career path and say, “Why don’t you just be a doctor?” With a doctorate in hand, she smiles broadly and tells them, “Well, I am.”
She has been practicing as Nurse Practitioner at Agnesian Health Care since 2007. Udlis equates her unwavering dedication to her education to a marathoner running the 26.2-mile race. “You don’t want to be asked at mile 20 how you feel, but you want to look back and say, ‘I really enjoyed my time in school. I got a lot out of my education,’” Udlis said.
Her sons, Eric, 12 and Ethan, 10, are fully aware of the type of work their parents do. “What happened to me as a child is already kind of happening to my kids whether we recognize it or not,” Udlis says. “We’re always talking about health care related careers. And even if the kids mention something as simple as ‘I want to be a doctor when I grow up,’ we’re already saying, ‘Be a dermatologist.’ Or my oldest son one time said, ‘I want to be an eye doctor,’ and we’re already saying, ‘Be an ophthalmologist!’”
Although Udlis and her husband have a great love and respect for the medical field, she stresses that they will let their children head into whichever careers they’d like. “We’re trying to support what their interests are,” Udlis says.
Healer and Teacher
Udlis receives self-fulfillment from the dual lives she leads. On Wednesdays, she works at Agnesian Healthcare in the Cardiology Department. On the other days, she is an assistant professor who teaches several grad courses—Clinical Management & Pharmacology, Advanced Epidemiology and Biostatistics and others at
UW Oshkosh. She also serves as the college’s assistant director overseeing the Family Nurse Practitioner and Doctor of Nursing Practice Program. “I couldn’t imagine not practicing,” Udlis said. “I couldn’t imagine not teaching. My teaching makes me a better practitioner, and being a practitioner makes me a better teacher.”
When Udlis lectures, she includes real-life examples from her practice. According to the student surveys, her students learn better when she shares her professional experience as part of the lessons.
During a fairly dense endocrinology lecture, Udlis paused between slides and shared a quick anecdote about a patient, who was covered in tattoos. “I say ‘I’m going send you for some blood work’ and the guy says, ‘I hate needles.’” Like a practiced storyteller, Udlis smiled broadly at her students before finishing the story. “And I’m looking at his tattoos and they’re filled with ink and I’m like, ‘Really?’” The class laughed appreciatively.
Udlis has no problem sharing light-hearted moments from her practice in class because she wants her students to see the patients as people. “I think that it’s important that we role model well for our students, and that we show them that, as professors, we’re involved in a profession that we respect,” Udlis said. “[But] at work we tend to have a little bit of levity and a little bit of fun in-between patients as well.”
Nicole Brown, a former student of Udlis, likes the personal touch. “Dr. Udlis has laughed in every class at least once and has always made a conscious effort to make her students laugh,” Brown says. “Her lectures are full of anecdotal experiences and a wealth of knowledge. Dr. Udlis teaches in a way that students can understand, process and apply.”
|In this video, University of Wisconsin Oshkosh instructor Kimberly Udlis, Ph.d., FNP-BC, shares her most challenging and rewarding moments in teaching, and talks about her reputation as a "tough" professor. Video produced by student features reporter Noell Dickmann.
Anna Christian, who graduated in May 2012 with a doctor of nursing practice degree, appreciates Udlis’ high standards.
“I have to honestly say that I don’t think I would have done as well or even finished this plan of study if it wasn’t for Dr. Udlis’ attention to detail and input into submitted work,” Christian says. “I feel very privileged that she was my instructor because of her unbiased input and understanding that all students come from different backgrounds and practice situations.”
Through student evaluations and scuttlebutt in the hallways of the nursing building, Udlis knows how students regard her. “I think I have developed a reputation for being a hard professor here and that’s OK,” she says with a smile. “When students leave my classes, they may be a little tired, but they will know what they will do as nurses is important and what they know is critical to what they will do.”
She wants her students to know that every day they work as nurse practitioners, they will make decisions, some tougher than others. “I tell them, ‘When you tell a patient, ‘I think you’re OK, I am not concerned about that, you are OK to go home,’ or when you tell a mother, ‘I believe your child is fine, the fever will pass, it will take a couple days,’ you have nobody standing behind you saying you made the right decision,” she says. “What you have are your knowledge and skills. People will listen and trust what you say. This is why the education is so important.”
Udlis is gratified when she hears from former students, now working in the field. “Every now and then you get a little thank-you note from a student,” Udlis said. “Somebody said you made a difference and it reminds you that ‘OK, I’m doing a good job.’”
In addition to her practice and her teaching, Udlis is also a researcher, having published and presented her work. Her research focus is two-fold; exploring health outcomes in cardiac patients and also examining outcomes in nursing education. She is currently a member of the Curriculum Leadership Committee for the National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties as well as a member of Doctor Nursing Practice National Task Force for the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. “The [research] that is nearest and dearest to my heart was the study that I did looking at the outcomes of patients with internal cardiac defibrillators because as a nurse practitioner I care for these people,” Udlis said. “It was a lot of fun to do because the results of the study were directly applicable to my career and practice setting. I hope to continue with it and further develop the technology on dependency concept with the patients.”
Fulfilling a Dream
When Udlis takes the rare break to reflect on her career path, she always goes back to the person who put her there—her mother. “I think she would say that I did the things she had hoped to do and always hoped I would do. She never misses a chance to tell me how proud she is, to the point where I often ask her to stop. But I try to remember that sharing the journey is important.”
With the idea of sharing in mind, Udlis established the Patricia M. Noble Scholarship in honor of her mother. The scholarship will be awarded to graduate students in the UW Oshkosh College of Nursing, with a preference given to the doctor of nursing practice students.
“My mother had these goals and aspirations, and then life circumstances presented barriers to having that education,” Udlis says. “Maybe if my mom had [this] opportunity at her time, her dream could have come true.”
On the scholarship endowment certificate are the words:
In honor of a mother’s dream and in gratitude for helping to make her daughter’s dream come true, the Patricia N. Noble Scholarship Fund was created in March 2011 for students requiring financial assistance in order to achieve their dream in nursing, despite adverse circumstance.
So what did the mother think of this scholarship, which was unveiled to her at Christmas 2011? The mother was touched beyond words. However, there was a tinge of regret, Udlis recalls. “True to my mother’s nature, the only thing she was disappointed about was that I did not put my name on the scholarship, but I didn’t want to put my name on it,” Udls says. “This is the way it is supposed to be.”
research mattersby Kimberly Udlis, Ph.D., FNP-BC
Currently, I am involved in several research projects at various phases. I am very pleased to be leading two research teams of College of Nursing graduate students. One team is actively involved in examining the outcomes of care for heart failure patients. Another team will be exploring the evidence surrounding mandatory vaccinations of health employees.
Dr. Udlis lectures to nursing students.