Student spotlight: Nursing Student Government’s new leader has steadfast commitment to nursing driven by personal impact of nurses

Olivia Livernois

The first day of clinicals is one of the most anticipated events for nursing students, but it didn’t go well for Olivia Livernois.

“I fainted, right there on the floor, and ended up in the emergency room all day,” said Livernois, now a University of Michigan School of Nursing (UMSN) junior.

It was more than a case of the jitters that caused her to faint. Livernois lives with a chronic condition called dysautonomia. It causes malfunctions of the automic nervous system and related functions like heart rate, blood pressure and temperature, which can lead to fainting. In addition, Livernois has idiopathic small fiber neuropathy which causes painful sensations, like pins and needles, burning or numbness.

Despite those health challenges, Livernois is undeterred in her goal of becoming a Michigan Nurse because a series of personal losses serve as a reminder of why she was drawn to nursing in the first place.

Profound motivation

The first loss came in middle school when classmate and friend, Peter Dubon, was diagnosed with cancer. Dubon was treated at U-M’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital and went into remission. During that time, he and Livernois had a conversation that stayed with her.

“He talked about how amazing his Mott nurses were and how even on his worst days they made him feel like a normal kid,” said Livernois.

 Livernois and friends honor Dubon with a team at a local fundraising walkSadly, Dubon was re-diagnosed in eighth grade and passed away soon after.

Livernois recalled Dubon’s comments several years later when her grandfather was hospitalized at U-M. That’s when Livernois witnessed nurses in action.

“I saw the amazing care my grandpa received in the ICU,” said Livernois. “Treatments prolonged his life for three years and the nurses were incredible to him and to my family.”

Livernois decided to commit to a career in nursing and was accepted at UMSN, but heartache would come again during her sophomore year, not long after her first day fainting episode. She knew a middle school teacher, who had been a strong source of support during Dubon’s illness, had thyroid cancer but she wasn’t aware of how advanced that cancer had become.

“We got a call that they were transferring a patient,” she explained. “When they told me her name, I said ‘Oh my God, this is my teacher.’ I found out the cancer had spread. I ended up staying late to care for her until her family came.”

The teacher was hospitalized for months. Livernois would check on her frequently and help with small but meaningful tasks like doing the teacher’s nails and decorating her room for Christmas. In March, the teacher passed away.

“That experience reaffirmed that I have to be a nurse,” said Livernois. “Nursing school is hard and the clinical shifts are physically and emotionally draining, but because of people like my friend, my grandpa and my teacher, I have to do this. I want to do it.”

Student activities and leadership

Livernois with North Reach campers

Given Livernois’ health concerns, it would be understandable if she stuck to the minimum just to get through school. But, that’s not Livernois. Instead, she is actively involved in intermural sports, half a dozen student organizations and as a North Star Reach volunteer.

“It’s a camp that offers a normal summer camp experience for kids with serious, chronic illnesses,” said Livernois. “It’s a magical place and it holds a very special place in my heart.”

She’s also taking a new role this year as president of UMSN’s Nursing Student Government (NSG).

“We’re dedicated to helping our students and the community,” she said. “We want to continue supporting our partnerships, like when we raised money for the ChadTough Foundation last year to support pediatric brain tumor research.”

UMSN students Olivia Livernois and Kelly Creal presenting a check from NSG to Tammi Carr and Bree Arvai Another main goal is to strengthen NSG’s Student Wellness Initiative.

“The wellness initiative is so important because the things that we see in our clinical shifts are intense,” she said. “And, our homework schedule is crazy. In such an altruistic field, you’re giving so much of yourself, you need a place to recharge your own mental and physical health.”

The initiative includes events to help nursing students manage stress, get enough sleep, and have healthy behaviors. It also makes sure students are aware of resources, like UMSN’s embedded Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) counselor Kristen Adams who is available to help students navigate concerns that might jeopardize their health.

“I think the wellness initiative is one of the most important things we are doing,” says Livernois. “We want the nursing students to know people are looking out for them.”

Looking ahead

Livernois says she’s successfully managing her chronic conditions and she’s using her past to support her during the difficult times.

Peter Dubon's well “I struggle through the emotional parts of seeing some patients,” she says. “But, it’s so rewarding to make even a small difference in their lives. I’m trying to use that and my own experiences to be a better nurse.”

She’s also thinking about opportunities to explore global health, and again, she’s finding inspiration from Dubon.

“Peter wanted the money that was donated to his funeral to build a water well in Tanzania and they did it,” said Livernois. “He brought clean water to them so I’d like to bring some sort of health project. It probably won’t happen until after graduation but I’m definitely interested in doing something.”

Livernois is on track to graduate with her BSN in 2020, and not surprisingly, her history is also influencing her professional goals.

 “I’m thinking about pediatric oncology or geriatrics,” she said. “I’d also like to earn my [Doctorate of Nursing Practice] DNP. I’ve always been interested in teaching too. I think being an educator is a good way to be a nurse leader because you can teach and inspire the next generation.”