As a kid growing up in Maryland, Sokonie Freeman Reed BSN '05 MSN '09 DNP '20 didn’t have to look far for career inspiration.
Her mother and aunt both were nurses, and her grandmother, a native of Liberia, Africa, was known to her neighborhood as “grandma,” because she cooked for and nurtured the community.
“I knew that I wanted to take care of people,” said Freeman Reed, who teaches community health nursing at Bradley. “I’ve always been an altruistic person, somebody who can put others before myself. I like being with people in their vulnerable moments.”
In May, she’s adding another credential to her nursing career. After serving as a registered nurse for 15 years, and teaching at Bradley for 10 years, Freeman Reed will earn her third nursing degree from the university, this one a doctorate in nursing practice. (This will make her the first full-time faculty member in Bradley history to have earned a bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate from the institution.) She’s enrolled in the online doctoral program, which allows her the flexibility to continue teaching and working as a clinical nurse.
“I like reminding my students that I, too, am part of the Class of 2020,” Freeman Reed said. “I look forward to walking across the same stage as them.”
Her joint role as a teacher and student has made Reed more empathetic with her charges.
“Not only have I been where they are as undergrads in the Bradley nursing program, but I can relate to them in the present as a Bradley student,” Freeman Reed said. “I understand that managing school, life and work – because most of them do work – can be a challenge.”
But until graduation, there’s plenty of clinical work to be done. Freeman Reed takes her students into the community and teaches them about caring for patients outside of hospital settings. “Nurses aren’t just needed there,” she noted. “About 80 percent of what contributes to a person’s health happens in the community, outside the hospital.”
She’s also helping to build the ranks of the nursing profession, which faces ongoing employment shortages as Baby Boomer nurses retire. Annually through 2026, the profession must add more than 203,000 registered nurses to meet demand, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Further, Freeman Reed is a role model for women of color breaking into the field. Of the more than 2.9 million registered nurses in the United States, just 9.9 percent are African American, reported the industry publication Minority Nurse.
Some of Freeman Reed’s students are pursuing nursing degrees because they, too, were influenced by a nurse in the family. Others were drawn to the profession after once having been a patient and receiving quality care from a nurse.
While doctors have the ultimate say on patient treatment, it’s nurses who play a particularly critical role.
“We’re the assessment experts,” Freeman Reed said. “Nurses are at the bedside, the front line. We are the eyes and ears and advocate for what’s going on with the patient.
She urges her students to remain lifelong learners as they embark on nursing careers.
“Nursing and the healthcare system are constantly changing as we work to provide evidence-based care,” Freeman Reed said. “It’s important to remain current on new knowledge and skills in order to provide quality care, contribute to optimal patient outcomes, and advance the profession.”
— Andrew Faught