Healing path leads to nurse practitioner career for GSN class speaker

Elizabeth Terhune will care for cancer patients, elderly

By Sandra Gray

UMass Medical School Communications

May 26, 2015
  GSN class speaker Elizabeth Terhune
  GSN class speaker Elizabeth Terhune

Soon-to-be nurse practitioner Elizabeth Terhune’s serene demeanor belies the boundless energy and passion that have powered her along a winding yet continuous path focused on healing others. A lifelong scholar, innate educator, pioneering massage therapist and, now, a highly skilled nurse, Terhune will bring her talents and training to bear on her next career as an adult gerontology and primary care nurse practitioner with subspecialties in oncology and nursing education when she receives her Master of Science in Nursing degree at UMass Medical School’s 2015 Commencement on Sunday, May 31.

Also on that day, Terhune will take the podium as the class speaker for the Graduate School of Nursing Class of 2015. This will be her second time receiving this honor, as she was also selected class speaker by her peers for her Graduate Entry Pathway class’s pinning ceremony in 2013.

Bringing as many interests and talents to the table as she does, Terhune personifies the interdisciplinary ethos of the Graduate Entry Pathway program, in which students with bachelor’s degrees in fields other than nursing first become registered nurses after a year of accelerated coursework. They go on to complete the Master of Science in Nursing program, which qualifies them to become licensed advanced practice nurses.

The daughter and granddaughter of physicians, Terhune always thought she would follow in their footsteps and attended Mills College in California, which offered both strong liberal arts and pre-med preparation. But upon graduating with a history degree at the height of the internet boom, Terhune’s first job was at technology leader Oracle, which sought liberal arts graduates for their critical thinking skills. “Understanding history requires critical thinking that is parallel to diagnostic reasoning from a psychosocial perspective,” she says of the parallels she discovered early on between humanities, technology and health care.

It was as a product specialist at Oracle that Terhune also first got to exercise her love for teaching as a workshop developer and leader, and enjoyed her first successes in interdisciplinary collaboration working across departments at the tech giant. But it was volunteering for a community literacy project that brought her back to health care.

“I decided that I wanted to do something more community-service oriented. I went to school to become a massage therapist in order to work with people on medically complicated journeys,” Terhune explained. Specifically, she trained in oncology massage, a new field at that time. She also trained to do work with prenatal and postpartum women who had miscarried or experienced other trauma before, during and after pregnancy.

In 2010, Terhune created the Abbott Road Project to provide access to palliative oncology massage for residents of Massachusetts, regardless of ability to pay. “The project draws the expertise and service of licensed, practicing oncology massage therapists who join me to provide free services for individuals living with cancer,” she said. “These events also provide mentorship, exposure to evidence-based practices, reinforcement of self-care measures, practice reflection and increased familiarity with oncology-related resources for the therapists, their clients and their communities.”

While she treats patients of all ages, Terhune discovered a love for working with the elderly, which later informed her decision to become a gerontologic primary care nurse practitioner, incorporating end-of-life and palliative care into her practice. And while completing prerequisite courses for graduate nursing school admission, Terhune was already in touch with GSN faculty and following their research, as they often had patients in common. She entered the GEP program in 2012.

“What attracted me to the GSN in addition to the research faculty were doing and the integrity they were presenting, is the very strong commitment to community service, a great legacy of rippling into and integrating with the community in ways that provide access to care,” she said. “The GSN is the only school I considered.”

Terhune was named a Fairlawn Nursing Scholar in 2015 for academic achievement and awarded the GSN’s Suzanne T. Sullivan Scholarship for Patient Advocacy in 2014 and the GSN Community Engagement Award in 2013.

“I have taken advantage of every opportunity here. There have been so many rich ones,” she said. “These are doors that would not have otherwise been open to me, and allowed me to come to the table and be incorporated into teams as a contributor while still a student.”

Currently employed part-time as a staff nurse at Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts while completing her studies, Terhune is pursuing nurse practitioner positions at a methadone clinic and at a continuing care facility for elders.

Related links on UMassMedNow:
New awards top off GSN Alumni Breakfast
Nurses and doctors in training run free flu clinic at Veterans Inc.
Pinning ceremony a milestone for nontraditional nursing students

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