Alumni and Student Spotlight banner

We are very proud of you, our alumni and students, as you work tirelessly to make lives better in our communities every day. We want to tell your stories and celebrate your successes while also introducing you to some of the next generation of health care leaders.

If you would like to share your story, please email alumni@uthscsa.edu.

Kirsten R. Furl, B.S.N., M.S.N., FNP, Class of 2014, School of Nursing

What year did you graduate from UT Health San Antonio? What degree do you have?

2014 – B.S.N.

2016 – M.S.N., FNP

What is your specialty?

My degree is family practice, but I fell in love with gastroenterology during clinical rotations and now work full time in a GI clinic.

What was the most valuable lesson – inside or outside the classroom – you learned at UT Health?

Work ethic and dedication to my patients. I have several degrees outside of nursing (bachelor’s degree in English literature and a master’s degree in library science). I came to understand very quickly at UT Health that excellence was not a goal but an expectation. This was drilled into us constantly, and now I apply that every day in my career. 

Kirsten R. Furl, B.S.N., M.S.N., FNP talking to a patientWhat inspired you to want to become a nurse?

 My mom and my sister are both RNs, and as stressed and overwhelming as their jobs were at times, I remember actually feeling jealous when they told me stories from work. I craved the ability to tangibly improve someone’s life, and you get to do that on a daily basis as a nurse. I chose a different career path after obtaining my first undergrad degree, but always felt like I wasn’t reaching my full potential, that something was missing. I received incredible nursing care and midwifery during the birth of my son and a lightbulb went on. Reinventing myself as a nurse later in life seemed so overwhelming, but I started chipping away at prerequisites when my son was 6 months old and now can’t imagine a different life or career.

What do you remember most vividly about your time at UT Health?

The School of Nursing matched my passions perfectly. Academic excellence was obviously a top priority, but we were also groomed to bring joy and healing to our patients and to truly improve quality of life. This holistic approach to care was woven seamlessly into every lesson, and I loved that. I was chosen as a Long Scholar, which is an honor of which I’m immensely proud. Meeting Mr. and Mrs. Long was nothing short of inspirational, and I continue to strive to make them proud through my daily interactions with my patients in a rural setting. It’s truly an honor to serve the small community where I work. I’m passionate about top quality health care, and love that my patients are almost like family. 

What was your most rewarding experience at the university?

By far the most rewarding experiences were during clinical rotations. I spent my last semester of my B.S.N. program at the Community Living Center at Audie Murphy, and it was here that I developed my passion for strong primary and preventive care. I was working with the same patients over several months, getting to intimately understand their chronic issues and develop solid care plans. Whether you work with a patient for years or only five minutes, it is so vital to establish good rapport and instill a sense of trust. I’m so grateful I had the opportunity to hone this skill with excellent clinical placement.

What is your greatest professional achievement?

I’m very proud of the relationships I have built with my patients. I work in a small community and having a solid reputation is paramount. I have worked hard to gain the trust of my patients and fellow health care providers in this area, and the fact that my practice continues to grow is humbling. I love getting referrals from friends and family members – this is a huge honor.

What is your current occupation and where? What’s a day on the job like for you?

I work as a nurse practitioner alongside the gastroenterologist at Connally Memorial Medical Center in Floresville. The majority of my time is spent in consultation with patients, and a big part of my job is education and helping my patients achieve wellness through lifestyle changes, healthier habits, and education regarding best practices for colon cancer screening.

What advice do you have for current students?

Nurses have the unique opportunity to be part of the fundamental human experiences including healing, grief and death. We see patients and their family at their happiest and saddest moments. As such, this job and line of work can take an emotional toll. Remember to turn inward at times, to respect your feelings and nurture yourself if necessary. You will be a better nurse if you have a healthy sense of your own needs and limitations. I’ve always said that the day I no longer grieve or celebrate with a patient will be the day I need to find a different job. We have an awesome responsibility and our patients deserve our humanity.

Why do you give back to the university (time and/or donation)?

I don’t know where I’d be without my education. I had a good job and was happy before going to UT Health, but I didn’t find myself until I started nursing school. Being a nurse isn’t a job, it’s a calling, and we need all the good hearts and hands that we can get. As the landscape of health care rapidly evolves, I want to be part of that conversation and, in my own small way, ensure that this profession is strongly supported and advanced in a way that ensures better medical care for all. 

Rebekah C. Gardea, Class of 2020, School of Nursing

What is your anticipated graduation date from UT Health San Antonio?

My anticipated graduation date is December 2020

As a student, which specialty(ies) interest you most?

I absolutely love kids, so my immediate interest is working as a Pediatric Intensive Care Nurse or a Neonatal Intensive Care Nurse. I do have plans to go back to school, however, and am planning to get my Ph.D. in nursing and work as a nursing professor/clinical instructor.

Rebekah C. Gardea in the classroomWhat has been the most valuable lesson – inside or outside the classroom – you have learned at the UT Health?

I have learned so many valuable lessons at UT Health, but I think the one that helped me grow the most as a future nurse and as a person in general is how deeply discrimination can impact a person’s health care experience. This is a lesson I have not only learned from my theory courses, but something I have been exposed to firsthand in the clinical setting. I have taken care of so many patients who tell me stories of how health care providers have not properly tended to their needs because they were discriminated against on the basis of race, sexual orientation, gender identity, or other things. Possibly the most impactful part of this lesson is seeing how often this discrimination is not the result of blatant cruelty or intolerance, but rather the product of ignorance and internalized bias that many people do not realize they harbor. I am so grateful for the opportunities both in and out of the classroom that UT Health has provided for me to learn about social and public health topics I was previously uneducated on, as well as the opportunities to put that new knowledge into practice caring for patients.

What inspired you to want to become a nurse?

When I was 8 years old, my younger sister came down with a cold. I shared a room with her at the time, so I spent the entire time she was feeling under the weather taking care of her, bringing her water and soup, taking her temperature, and just keeping her company. It was something that likely seemed so insignificant to anyone else watching, but I knew in those moments that I wanted to spend the rest of my life taking care of people and that I wanted to do so as a nurse. As I grew older and developed an understanding of what being a nurse meant, I only grew more excited about the prospect of a career in nursing. I love the fact that nursing combines my love for science and fascination with health and the human body with my desire to connect with and care for people. Nursing has truly been a lifelong passion, and I am so excited about my future in this field.

What has been your most rewarding experience at the university thus far?

I think my most rewarding experience overall has been participating in the SUNRISE summer research program. I started nursing school with the understanding that undergraduate research experience would be beneficial if I were to pursue a Ph.D., but I had no idea how many doors this program would open for me. Under the direction of my mentor through the program, I have designed two separate studies, one of which is currently being considered for publication. I got the opportunity to present my research at a national conference in New Orleans, and also travelled to Washington, D.C., with other research fellows in the program. More importantly, I’ve unlocked a passion for my research topic—improving the care of isolated patients in general and of neonates in particular—that will follow me throughout the rest of my education and career.

What advice do you have for incoming students?

I would encourage incoming students to have a loose “road map” or set of goals that they would like to accomplish during nursing school, but to be open to new possibilities along the way. Nursing school presents itself with so many new opportunities, but time is a valuable commodity that must be budgeted carefully among a few key passions. However, if you close yourself off to anything outside of your original plan, you might miss some incredible opportunities. I originally did not want to be involved in student government during nursing school, but now my SGA position for my cohort and my secretary position for the Green Student Organization are two of my favorite ways I’ve gotten involved on campus.

How do you intend to give back and pay it forward for future students?

One of the ways I try to give back as a current student is by working with our nursing school’s Student Success program to help implement tools for academic and social support for incoming students. I work as a student administrator for the Peer Assisted Learning (PALS) Program, and one of my favorite things about my job is coming up with new policies and innovations to the program that further help the students using our services. After I graduate, the way I am most excited to give back to future students is by volunteering to be a nurse preceptor in the hospital where I work. I have seen firsthand how drastically nurses’ attitudes and willingness to teach students can impact learning in the clinical setting. As I am seeking employment in San Antonio after graduation, I know I will likely come across UT Health nursing students and will likely be able to teach them during clinicals. I am so excited to pass on the knowledge I have gained and help future generations of nursing students get as excited about this profession as I am.

Who is your favorite professor, mentor or staff member? And why?

I honestly do not think I can pick a favorite faculty member at UT Health San Antonio; I have worked with so many incredible people during my time in school here. There are two particular people, however, who have been incredibly influential in my academic journey and who I greatly enjoy working with. The first one is my research mentor, Dr. Joseph “JB” Cantey. Dr. Cantey is a neonatologist who works in the Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long School of Medicine who agreed to be my mentor for the School of Nursing’s SUNRISE summer research program. I owe him for introducing me to the world of clinical research, and for nurturing in me the drive to find answers to the millions of questions turning over in my mind at any given moment. Dr. Cantey is a natural educator and a genuine encourager and has more unbridled enthusiasm and passion for his work than anyone I’ve ever met. 

The second person is Dr. Cindy Wall, a professor and clinical instructor in the School of Nursing. I had the privilege of supporting one of Dr. Wall’s classes as a Supplemental Instruction leader during the Fall 2019 semester, and I had her as my Pediatric Nursing professor in spring 2020. Dr. Wall is one of the kindest and most nurturing people I have ever met. She is also an incredible educator and has served as a role model for how I would like to teach one day.

It’s your turn in the spotlight!

If you would like to nominate yourself or a fellow alumni or student to be featured in our next Spotlight, please email alumni@uthscsa.edu. Nominations should include: name, graduation year and degree, notable career achievements, current occupation.

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