“She told me, ‘when you get your license, come apply to St. John’s because we need nurses like you,” says Tanya Henderson, St. John’s Employee Health Nurse, who recalls this welcoming invitation extended over 10 years ago from former St. John’s Home Social Worker Kate Campbell Tubbs. And, what started out back then as one generous colleague encouraging another, has turned into a legacy of Tanya’s paying this act of kindness forward by helping others starting out in a nursing career.
Tanya’s path into nursing was non-traditional as an adult learner, with two teenage children at home, going back to school to get her LPN license after a short stint as a certified nursing assistant. Attending the Rochester Educational Opportunity Center (REOC), through SUNY Brockport, Tanya feels fortunate to have been able to receive her education for free. “I was really proud of myself. I was forty going back to school,” says Tanya, who received two scholar awards and was nominated to give the class speech at her pinning ceremony.
And upon graduation, the generosity of a stranger who paid the fees for her to take her LPN certification boards, inspired Tanya to continue the tradition for future program participants. Each year following her commencement, Tanya has done the same for one graduate via an anonymous donation to the school until this benefit was incorporated into the program.
Tanya’s first position as a licensed LPN was on Reservoir 6 at St. John’s Home nine years ago–she applied as Kate encouraged her to do and was warmly accepted. “I loved it,” says Tanya, who would later transfer to the Daybreak Adult Day Services, where she remained until the program’s closing.
During her time in Daybreak, Tanya would host different groups of students from the REOC LPN program for two-day rotations through the year, to provide coaching/mentoring as part of the students’ shadowing experience requirement. “I would always speak to them by giving encouraging words,” says Tanya.
In the third year of volunteering with the program, Tanya was also asked by REOC leadership to speak to the students. She had formerly visited the CNA program with St. John’s recruiters to promote St. John’s employment opportunities, but recently, Tanya was additionally asked to speak to the LPN class. Those who run the program believe she serves as an inspiration to the students having once been in their shoes. She was even asked if she would be willing to be photographed for the school’s alumni “wall of fame.” According to Tanya, “I said, ‘wow, that’s pretty cool. Sure!'” Continually looking for ways to support future nurses, Tanya will return to the school later this month for this year’s LPN graduates’ pinning ceremony.
However, Tanya does not limit her extension of kindness and assistance just to those entering the field. She is also there for fellow colleagues. “I am a people-person. I love interacting with people. People come and talk to me and they feel safe and secure,” says Tanya, who feels as though she is a “community nurse” because she is there for everybody.
Since the closing of Daybreak at the start of the pandemic, Tanya has served in multiple capacities, truly living up to this self-designated, informal title of “community nurse.” Officially, Tanya is currently an employee health nurse for St. John’s, who does pre-employment physicals, tests as necessary for COVID, runs vaccine clinics, does rounds on the floors, etc. She also helps out in the medical department covering renewals and other tasks as needed by the team.
This proud mother of daughter Chynna and son Chance, who are both now adults, and the biggest fan of granddaughter Gabriella–who you may be lucky to see on Facetime if you stop by Tanya’s office during one of her mid-day check-ins, is clearly at her best when she is supporting others.
Among her best advice for the students she coaches, can also be inspiring for those in the field during a challenging time for the industry: “I tell them I have been in their shoes. I know how hard it is to balance work, home, school, your children, and your sanity.”
“Nursing is hard to get into and hard to stay in. But, once you are there, it is so rewarding,” says Tanya, in true “mentor” fashion.