Sarah Little honored as Verde Valley's outstanding Yavapai nursing student

Sarah Little (center) was honored as Yavapai College’s Outstanding Student in Nursing at the college’s annual Evening of Recognition event on the Clarkdale campus April 22. Nursing instructor Sandy Johnson (right) presented the award along with Yavapai College President Dr. Penny Wills.

Sarah Little (center) was honored as Yavapai College’s Outstanding Student in Nursing at the college’s annual Evening of Recognition event on the Clarkdale campus April 22. Nursing instructor Sandy Johnson (right) presented the award along with Yavapai College President Dr. Penny Wills.

Wife, mother, teacher, outstanding student and soon-to-be nurse. Verde Valley native Sarah Little is making the most of every minute with a calm and grace that belie the challenges she has taken on.

A former teacher at Oak Creek Elementary School and Mingus Union High School, Sarah was named this year's Outstanding Nursing student on the Yavapai College Verde Valley Campus. Now she's preparing to graduate from the nursing program and take the state board exam to become a registered nurse.

So how did the teacher become the student? "I had been thinking about nursing for quite a while," Sarah says. "Nursing integrates so much of teaching and the other skills that I wanted to focus on: critical thinking, science and the opportunity to learn and grow. What I really enjoy about the nursing portion is the one-on-one interaction. And, ultimately, it's service oriented, and I find that incredibly fulfilling."

After 10 years of teaching, the Cottonwood resident decided to shift gears in 2012. Sarah's career decision got an early boost when the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Prescott awarded her with a full tuition and fee nursing scholarship to Yavapai College.

"The scholarship was a godsend," Sarah says. "Having my tuition and fees covered every semester by the Jewish Community Foundation was a tremendous help. Beyond that, just to know that they believed in me, that was a real honor."

Even though she already had bachelor and masters degrees, she found the Yavapai College nursing program to be a challenge. "Honestly, I have to say that working for my associates in nursing has been the hardest and most fulfilling experience I've had in education," she says.

In addition to classroom work, nursing students must complete clinical hours in the field. "I just loved the experience," says Sarah, who completed her clinicals at the Kachina Point skilled nursing facility in Sedona and the Verde Valley Medical Center. Sandy Johnson, a YC nursing instructor, noted that Sarah was "excellent with patients in the clinical setting at the Verde Valley Medical Center. Her gentle voice and winning smile helps patients feel comfortable and cared for."

Sarah's family made it easy for her stay focused and energized when her school, work and family obligations collided. "One of the commitments I made to myself at the beginning of this was that I didn't want my children to have bad memories of mom being in school. I wanted them to see school as a positive, a good thing. But I could not have made it through the program without the love and support of family and friends. In particular, my husband's kindness and help with family responsibilities made it possible for me to be successful in the nursing program."

And successful she was. She recently received the Florence Nightingale Scholarship from the Yavapai College Foundation and a scholarship from the Arizona Nurses Association to continue her studies. While currently looking for a job, she has her sights set on the masters nursing program at Northern Arizona University.

"Possibly later on, I can blend together my previous education background and my nursing experience to teach nursing," she says.

Whatever she does, she plans to do it in the region where she was born and raised. "When you accept the Jewish Community Foundation scholarship, you give a verbal commitment that you want to stay in the area," Sarah says. "That's always been what I wanted to do anyway."

Any advice for someone thinking about a career in nursing? "I would tell them to take the leap, if they truly felt called to nursing," she says. "It is difficult and challenging, but also a time of personal and professional growth. The joy that you will take in helping others and learning more about the human spirit makes it all worthwhile."

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