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CU Nursing student Emily Fivekiller

Finding Balance

CU Nursing Student Finds Time for School, Work, and Volunteering

Written by Molly Smerika on May 15, 2024

Working in healthcare has always been in the back of Emily Fivekiller’s mind.

She grew up in a rural area of California. Her family was homeless for a few years, oftentimes living in a car. She was also sick a lot and the only care she would receive was from the free healthcare clinic in the area.

“The care providers at the clinics were so amazing, the nurses there were great,” she says. “I saw them struggling to meet the needs of the community, but they were always so compassionate, so it influenced my decision to go into medicine.”

Fivekiller originally wanted to become a doctor, earning a BA in biology as an undergrad, but realized that wasn’t the right path for her. She went on to earn a Master’s in Public Health from the Colorado School of Public Health at Anschutz Medical Campus. She’s been working at the Barbara Davis Center as a senior clinical scientist but becoming a nurse has always been in the back of her mind.

“Nurses are patient advocates, we show up every day for them,” she says. “I think that was a core value and reason why I wanted to get into nursing. I was finishing my master’s in public health when the COVID-19 pandemic happened, and re-ignited that passion to become a nurse.”

Juggling Work and School

Fivekiller is graduating with a BS in Nursing from the University of Colorado College of Nursing. She enrolled in the Traditional (TRAD) program to help manage school and work.

“In nursing school, you don’t have a lot of say in your schedule, and the TRAD program is a little more flexible than the Accelerated (UCAN) program,” Fivekiller says. “I talked with my husband and my team at the Barbara Davis Center and thought I could continue working while going to school. I really like my job, so it’s been nice being able to continue doing that.”

“It’s important for students to adjust their learning methods and say, ‘What’s the best way for me to take in all of this knowledge’?” – Emily Fivekiller


She says while the TRAD program is demanding, her schedule of two to three classes at a time allows for balance.

“I wanted to be able to absorb all of this material and ask questions. Could I have done the UCAN program? Yes. But this led to a better work-life-school balance for me and allowed me to keep doing things outside of school.”

Fivekiller says it was an adjustment returning to school. One thing that helped was taking advantage of the college’s Peer Mentoring Program (she tutored a UCAN student) and talking to faculty members during their office hours.

“It’s important for students to adjust their learning methods and say, ‘What’s the best way for me to take in all of this knowledge’?” she says. “Everyone is different, and no one is going to know what to do right off the bat – especially if you’re like me who’s been out of school for a few years – you’re thinking, ‘What is studying? How do I study?’”

“And don’t be afraid to ask questions,” she adds. “Faculty want you to succeed. They want you to do well, but they can’t help you if you don’t ask questions. Be proactive about seeking what type of help you need.”

Fivekiller also balances volunteering at the DAWN Clinic, which serves underserved patients in Aurora. She helps recruit nursing students to volunteer at the clinic and helps with orientation. She says the clinic means so much to her since she received care from similar clinics growing up.

“The DAWN Clinic is dear to my heart, and the clinic is so important,” she says. “They do an excellent job of treating patients with integrity and making sure they get the care they need.”

Topics: Students, Graduation