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Jessica Barnhart photo CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo., Nov. 27, 2002 - If at first you do not succeed, try, try again. After all, you might get hired by the Mayo Clinic.

That's what happened to Jessica Barnhart, who is expected to graduate from Southeast Missouri State University in December with a bachelor of science in nursing degree.

"If I get kicked down, I get right back up," she said.

Barnhart, of Charleston, Mo., recently was hired to begin working in the liver and kidney transplant unit at the world-renowned Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. She will begin her new duties Feb. 10.

"I am so unbelievably happy," she said. "This is one of my dreams to work at the Mayo Clinic. I think this is what God put me on this earth to do - to be a nurse."

Barnhart has been following this dream for many years, but the road has not always been easy. The 1997 Charleston High School graduate began her undergraduate studies at the University of Missouri-Columbia. After a year and a half, with just a 1.7 grade point average, she had to return home. She said she had difficulty adjusting to life away from home.

In January 1999, she enrolled at Southeast with the hopes of getting started in Southeast's nursing program. She applied for admission to the program, but was denied due to the quality of the competition. On her second attempt, she was admitted, and she began realizing she would have to work harder.

Since that time, Barnhart has excelled both in and out of the classroom. When she is not in class, she is working as a nurse's assistant on the medical/surgical and pediatric floor at St. Francis Medical Center. She has enjoyed that experience immensely but says she has long thought of spreading her wings outside of Southeast Missouri.

Her dream began taking shape last spring when Dr. Linda Heitman, Southeast assistant professor of nursing, suggested that interested nursing students apply for a prestigious summer externship at the Mayo Clinic. Heitman had just returned from a conference there, where she presented a paper and met with Mayo representatives about their externship opportunities. Barnhart was eager to take Heitman up on the offer, and together, they worked on preparing her application.

Like her admittance to Southeast's nursing program, Barnhart's hopes were dashed when she learned that she had just narrowly missed the cut -- Mayo accepts only 50 externs from some 3,000 applicants. Barnhart was named an alternate for the program.

"I was so disappointed," she said. "I wanted a chance to get away and broaden my horizons. I really wanted it. I had my mind set I was going to get it."

But good things come to those who wait. In August, Barnhart received a letter in the mail from Mayo Clinic asking her to apply for a full-time registered nurse position.

"I called my mom. I called Dr. Heitman," she said, her voice gleaming with pride.

She spent a week completing the application.

"They really wanted to get to know me" through the application, she said. "They look at the whole person and who will best fit with the philosophy of the Mayo Clinic."

She was invited to an interview Oct. 10-11.

"I go, for my first nursing interview, of all places, to the Mayo Clinic," she said stunned.

A week later, she learned she had been hired.

"It takes a certain amount of self-esteem and knowledge to get hired by the Mayo Clinic," Heitman said. "It says something about the kind of students we have here. It exemplifies that we have the best of the best. Our nursing students are very bright and very competitive, and we educate them to go anywhere.

"I am incredibly proud of Jessica for her stamina, courage and her persistence to believe in herself that she could do this," Heitman added. "She exemplifies the type of dynamic students we have at Southeast."

Barnhart says she is ready for the challenges the Mayo Clinic will bring. There, she will be matched with a nurse preceptor with at least 15 years experience. Barnhart will be responsible for monitoring the condition of two patients, both of whom will have just returned from major surgery after receiving liver or kidney transplants. Twenty transplant patients are cared for in the unit.

"They really believe in holistic care - taking care of the mind, body and soul. It's taking care of the whole person," said Barnhart, the daughter of a Southern Baptist minister. "That is what nursing is all about. That is what the Mayo Clinic is all about."

Rosemary Crisp of Marion, Ill., whose contributions to the nursing program at Southeast are many and for whom the Rosemary Berkel Crisp Hall of Nursing is named, has been treated at the Mayo Clinic for a number of years.

"I just think it is of the highest quality," she said, extolling the professionalism and work ethic of the clinic's staff. "It's just really exciting to see what is going on there and how innovative they are. That's why I keep going back."

Crisp said Barnhart's hiring at the Mayo Clinic is indicative of "the quality of the education there at Southeast."

Barnhart says her work with the liver and kidney transplant unit will, hopefully, be a stepping stone to her ultimate goal. She, someday, hopes to work in pediatric oncology at the Mayo Clinic.

After all, cancer has hit home closely for Barnhart. Both of her grandparents have been treated for cancer. She also is close to a family friend who has been treated for leukemia and has been in remission for three years.

"She (the friend) once told me the only way she got through the treatment was with the help of her nurses," Barnhart said. "Cancer is horrible, and the Mayo Clinic is doing so much research to help cure it. If I could make one day a little bit brighter for someone, I want to do that. I want to give them the best care I can. I want to treat them like a part of my family."

Heitman says, "to have a young person know they want to work in pediatric oncology takes a great degree of professional and personal maturity. This can be taxing on your mind and your spirit."

Barnhart has come a long way since she struggled at the University of Missouri-Columbia. She plans to graduate from Southeast in December with a 3.2 grade point average.

"I'm very proud of that," she said.

So are her parents, James and Karen Barnhart of Sikeston, Mo.

She has only one more hurdle to climb. In January she will take the state board nursing examination to become a licensed registered nurse. Shortly thereafter, she hopes to be heading north to Minnesota. Barnhart says she's got what it takes to succeed at the Mayo Clinic.

"They have tremendous ongoing educational opportunities for the entire staff," she said. "This is one of the best hospitals in the world. I hope to be there as long as I can. I've never felt so totally blessed in my life."


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