BSN alumna Esther Nalukwago’s dreams grow bigger from Uganda to UW-Green Bay

Esther Nalukwago, RN, stands in front of the statue of St. Anthony of Padua on the eighth floor of HSHS St. Vincent Hospital in Green Bay.

From more than 7,700 miles away, Esther Nalukwago envisioned her future as a Phoenix. It was a bold move that no one in her family had ever done before. She was going to college. She had done well in school, and she was ready.

She left her home in Uganda in 2018 and arrived at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay dressed for summer in wintry December. The change in weather was startling. But it was minor compared to the changes that Nalukwago would experience over the next four years.

On May 13, 2023, she became a member of the first graduating class of UW-Green Bay’s traditional, four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program. She works as a registered nurse in the surgical unit at HSHS St. Vincent Hospital in Green Bay, and now envisions a new future: operating a health clinic utilizing American medical practices back home in Uganda.

“My ultimate hope is to open my own clinic and have it set up like American style and practices,” she says. “Basically, how (Americans) treat patients, they prioritize the patients, whereas back home, it’s not the case.”

When Nalukwago was very young, her father passed away. A family from Green Bay chose to support her and her brother and made it possible for the siblings to remain with their mother in Uganda. When offered the opportunity to attend college and live with her host family in Green Bay, she took the leap with the intent to return home after graduation.

She enrolled and earned a seat in the BSN program.

“Halfway through, I kind of started to question if I was supposed to be in the program. Things got harder as we advanced,” she says.

Esther Nalukwago, RN, works from the nurses station on the eighth floor of HSHS St. Vincent Hospital in Green Bay.

It’s not uncommon, says Sharon Gajeski, RN, MSN, assistant teaching professor, for nursing students to struggle with the demands of course work and clinical rotations during their junior and senior years.
“I’m so impressed especially with students who speak English as their second language and come from different cultures. I’m amazed, especially by Esther. I loved seeing the growth over the course of the program.”

Nalukwago says nursing faculty like Gajeski, helped motivate her.

“The teachers were great. They knew exactly what they were talking about because they had the experience as nurses. For me, it created more trust in them,” she says.

“I thought about my country and how badly we need health care workers. I knew at some point, I’m going to have to move back and I want to set myself up for job security.”

She persevered, but even at the pinning ceremony just before graduation, Nalukwago did not feel relief. The state licensure exam was still a few months away. “I did not feel accomplished. I still knew that I needed to study to get my license. I still felt pressure after graduation.”

Nalukwago passed the exam in late July. She had already started her fulltime job at in the surgical unit at St. Vincent’s Hospital. It’s a job she enjoys and intends to stay for a few more years before returning home. She likes the variety of care she provides.

“You could have a patient from a motorcycle accident; you could have another with a GI issue; you could have a hip fracture — you could have six people with six different issues. It can be challenging, and I like it a lot,” she says.

For now, Nalukwago’s staying put in Green Bay to work on her nursing skills.

“I feel like I’ve gained a lot of relationships and I’ve made friends from all over. I have gained a lot of attachment to (my adoptive) family, and it’s hard for me to think about leaving,” she says.

First seniors to graduate with 4-year BSN

UW-Green Bay’s Nursing Department is getting ready to celebrate a major milestone with the Spring 2023 graduation of its first traditional four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) prepared nurses.

As our alumni and friends, you are aware of the University’s track record for offering quality, accredited undergraduate and graduate nursing programs, starting with the BSN Completion program in 1982.

We are proud of the more than 2,600 health care workers who call themselves UW-Green Bay alumni. In May, 33 prelicensure nurses will join the ranks of graduates with our newest degree program.

To celebrate this first class of prelicensure students, we asked what inspired them to study nursing. Here’s a sample of their responses:

Jordan Barnes
Hometown: South Milwaukee
Major(s): Human Development, Nursing
Minor(s): Psychology and German

Nursing student Jordan Barnes
Jordan Barnes is a nursing student at UW-Green Bay and will graduate in Spring 2023.

“When I was very young, my dad was diagnosed with colon cancer that metastasized and caused him to pass away at the mere age of 48 years old. Having three children to raise as a single parent, my mom went to school for nursing to support my sisters and me. Not only did she become a nurse, but she became a hospice nurse because of the impact that my dad’s hospice nurse left on our family. I saw how much comfort my mom was able to provide for these patients and their families and wanted to be able to do the same.” 

Career goals: I am passionate about babies and infants so I would be very interested in pursuing a path in either maternity or NICU, and possibly going back to school to become a nurse midwife. Birthing centers are fascinating so I think it would be awesome to work in that setting eventually.

Karen Gonzalez Alvarez
Hometown: Green Bay
Major: Nursing
Minor: Psychology

Karen Gonzalez Alvarez
Karen Gonzalez Alvarez is a nursing student at UW-Green Bay and will graduate in Spring 2023.

“I have dreamt of being a nurse from a young age. Something that has inspired me to pursue a nursing career is that Green Bay has a fast-growing Hispanic and Latino community. As a minority student, I would like to help ease the language barriers and help minorities have the same access to health care as everyone else. I am passionate about making a positive impact in my community. I will continue serving and caring for others so that I can  help them reach their health goals.”  

Career goals: After graduation I hope to find the perfect place to continue growing as a nurse. While I am unsure of what unit or specialty I would like to work in, I am excited to continue caring for others. My ultimate career goal is to help others become the best version of themselves.

Napho Xiong
Hometown: Green Bay
Major: Nursing

Napho Xiong
Napho Xiong is a nursing student at UW-Green Bay and will graduate in Spring 2023.

“What inspired me to go into nursing is my personal experience with great nurses. When my mom suffered a stroke and my dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, the nurses who cared for my parents were absolutely amazing. They showed me how much compassion, empathy, and kindness can impact the quality of care. I hope that one day I will have the same positive impact on my patients and their families.” 

Career goals: My plan after graduation is to work in my hometown as a NICU and/or Pediatric nurse. I am still unsure about what my ultimate career goal is because nursing provides an abundance of different opportunities once becoming a registered nurse.

Brooklyn Simonar
Hometown: Luxemburg
Major: Nursing

Brooklyn Simonar is a nursing student at UW-Green Bay and will graduate in Spring 2023.

“Since I was young, I’ve always had a passion and found my purpose in helping other people. When I started college, I was a psychology major and thought I wanted to be a social worker or a child psychologist. I ruled out nursing as a career for me because I felt I didn’t have the mental strength or the stomach for nursing. But my heart was being pulled in the direction of nursing. I had the opportunity to job shadow my aunt, who is a nurse at Bellin, in January of 2020. I only had to stay for six hours, but I stayed for 10 hours because of how intrigued I was! After that job shadow, I knew nursing was my calling. I got my first CNA job at Aurora in October of 2020 and applied for the nursing program at UW-Green Bay.”

Career goals: I work at Aurora as a Nurse Extern in the Women’s Health Float Pool, where we float to the Labor and Delivery unit, the Neonatal Intensive Care (NICU) Unit, and the Gynecology/ Pediatric unit. My supervisor has worked with me so I can transition into a nurse position in the Women’s Health Float Pool after graduation/ After getting about a year or two of experience, I want to be a travel nurse with these specialties and help people all over the United States and possibly even travel to different countries. My ultimate goal after traveling is to come back to Wisconsin, settle down, and find a job back in Women’s Health and Pediatrics.