Muthee personifies the American dream

Hard work and opportunity yield success for GSN class speaker

By Sandra Gray and Bryan Goodchild

UMass Medical School Communications

May 29, 2012

Graduate School of Nursing class speaker Phylis Muthee, RN, will mark a new milestone in her pursuit of the American dream when she receives her master’s degree at the UMass Worcester Commencement on Sunday, June 3. Soon to be an adult primary care/geriatric nurse practitioner, Muthee has journeyed far from her native Kenya to achieve her dreams.

Muthee grew up poor in material things but rich in love and traditional values on a small rural farm. She married, but digressed from a young Kenyan woman’s traditional path by becoming the first in her family to attend college. Having wanted to be either a teacher or a nurse since childhood, she chose earned a bachelor’s in economics and sociology, and began teaching business administration.

In 1998, her life changed dramatically. Temporarily apart from her husband in order for him to pursue graduate studies at Brandeis University, she brought her infant daughter from Kenya to Massachusetts for a short visit—and has been here ever since.

Volunteering at a local hospital in order to get out of the house a few hours a week while raising her daughter subsequent precipitated Muthee's subsequent career change. “It rekindled my childhood dream of becoming a nurse, and I realized what a flexible career it is for someone with a family,” she recalled. Starting as a licensed practical nurse (LPN), the entry level for nursing, she next planned to earn a BS to become a registered nurse.

As she worked alongside nurse practitioners, Muthee soon set her sights higher. “Seeing the roles they played in practice was influential in my decision,” she recalled. Upon learning about the GSN’s Graduate Entry Pathway (GEP) program, Muthee decided it would be perfect for her.

The GEP is an innovative program allowing individuals with baccalaureate degrees in fields other than nursing to become registered nurses after a full year of accelerated coursework. GEP students then complete two years of graduate study to earn Master of Science in Nursing degrees in a variety of specialties.

Muthee chose to continue her master’s-level studies in the dual Adult Primary Care Nurse Practitioner with Gerontological Nurse Practitioner Specialty track, and received a United States Health Resources and Services Administration-funded scholarship for nursing students committed to working in primary care and with underserved populations after graduation. She participated in the Geriatric Oral Health in Central Massachusetts initiative for her required community clerkship, and along with other nursing and medical students, worked with Elder Services of Worcester as a member of UMass Worcester’s Geriatric Interest Group. “The GSN gives you opportunities to learn how to collaborate with colleagues in other disciplines before you do it in practice,” she said.

Muthee said that her focus on geriatrics likely stems from the adoration and respect elders command in her native Kenyan culture. She is pursuing opportunities in settings including nursing homes and rehabilitation facilities where she will be able to establish long-term relationships with patients. “I like to teach, so I could help people who are learning how to take care of themselves and regain health and function,” she said. “Once you have a relationship, you can empower your patients with knowledge to achieve their goals.”

GSN faculty, classmates and colleagues are encouraging Muthee to pursue a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree, but for now she looks forward to returning to the workforce. She will, however, remain involved with the GSN after graduation as a clinical preceptor, another opportunity to keep teaching—and to pass along to future students her deep appreciation for her own preceptors. “I cannot say enough about them,” she said. “They brought out the best in me.” She will also continue to be a member of the newly established GSN Diversity Committee.

While she hasn’t found it yet, Muthee is confident that her training and support system will lead to a job that will capitalize on her interests and experience. She concluded with satisfaction and pride, “I’m ready to put what I’ve learned into practice.”

Related links on UMassMedNow:
HRSA head convenes with faculty focused on underserved
GEP Pinning Ceremony marks milestone for nursing students with nontraditional backgrounds
Commencement, part 1: 39th Commencement marks endings and beginnings
Commencement, part 2: UMMS faculty forge strong bonds with Liberia
Commencement, part 3: Honorary degrees strengthen Commencement tradition.