Student spotlight: First-gen student tees up success

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Bailey Forde

Many nursing students have a health care experience that inspired their decision to be a nurse. Bailey Forde has dozens.

“All of the kids in my family had medical issues growing up,” said Forde, a University of Michigan School of Nursing (UMSN) junior from Illinois. “I have four siblings and we all had kidney disease when we were born. I had to have surgery when I was three years old. I also had seizures so I was in the hospital a lot. One brother has a really rare bone disease in his hip. He’s had three surgeries to remove tumors and fix the bone.”

Forde and her brotherThose experiences sparked Forde’s interest in health care, but it was her mother’s difficult experience as an expectant mother that led her to nursing. Before Forde was born, her mother had a baby with holoprosencephaly, an abnormality in which the brain doesn't form properly.

Doctors recommended terminating the pregnancy but her mother wanted to carry the baby as long as possible. When it was time to deliver, the baby had already passed away and her mother had become very sick. Adding to the trauma, Forde’s father was unable to be there to support her mother because he had had a brain aneurysm and was hospitalized elsewhere.

“My mom says the person who got her through the whole experience was her nurse,” said Forde. “She sat with her long after her shift had ended. She stayed with her the whole time.”

Familial hardships

That story and Forde’s own interactions with nurses inspired her to choose nursing as her future profession. However, her path to UMSN as a first-generation American citizen and college student came with struggles beyond health issues.

Forde’s parents, separately, had immigrated to the United States from Ireland before she was born. They met in the Chicago area and started their family. However, over the years, the health care issues caused tremendous economic and emotional strain.

“We had financial issues my entire life,” said Forde. “It was always a struggle.”

An unexpected solution

Forde (right) on the golf courseWhen it was time for Forde’s oldest brother to start thinking about college, the school principal had a suggestion.

“He told my mom to get us caddying,” said Forde. “He told us about the Evans Scholarship. It’s a full four-year scholarship for golf caddies who qualify based on merit and need.”

Beginning with the two oldest brothers, the Forde children began caddying and the strategy worked. Forde became the third member of her family to earn the scholarship.

“I’m so grateful,” said Forde. “The scholarship generally only pays for in-state tuition, but I was able to get additional support from U-M so we made it work. Michigan was my number one choice so I’m really happy.”

Combining opportunities and work ethic

Recently, Forde earned a Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship to support an upcoming study abroad opportunity. She’ll travel to Denmark in the summer as part of a four-week UMSN program focused on childbearing and reproductive health. A key element of the experience is working with midwives, which is a potential career path for Forde inspired by her mother’s experience.

The scholarship does not cover the full cost of the experience but Forde is determined to make it happen. She works as a dishwasher at a sorority, at U-M’s Campus Information as a student manager, as a tech at U-M’s Frankel Cardiovascular Center, and in the summers she picks up caddying shifts at a local golf course.

Forde and one of her clinical groups Forde also gives back to her residential community as vice-president of U-M’s Evans Scholars House where she is in charge of philanthropy. In addition, she recently became a volunteer for Motley Crew, a student group that works to support children with health care issues and disabilities.

“Sometimes it’s hard to juggle everything,” she said. “But, there are so many opportunities at U-M. I would tell prospective students who are interested in U-M but don’t think they can afford it, to just go for it. There are so many things you can do and ways to find support. I’ve really grateful for that.”

Forde gives credit to her two primary Michigan communities for supporting her journey.

“The Evans Scholars house has 60 people,” she said. “It’s mostly boys; there are 51 of them. I thought that might be weird at first but those connections have been some of the best things about Michigan. With nursing, I’d say the same thing. You’re with the same group for four years. I love that the clinical rotations are different each semester so I’ve gotten to know a lot of people really well and made a lot of good friends who support me.”