May 18, 2011 — Katerina Bruner's decision to become a nurse was easy. She watched her younger sister recover from back surgery when she was 16 and although it was "hard to see a loved one in pain, it was really rewarding to see her get better," she said. That experience taught her to appreciate life and her health, and instilled in her a desire to help others with health concerns.
Her choice of where to go to college was also easy. Diamond Bruner, her older sister and a 2009 University of Virginia graduate, was already studying at U.Va. Her younger sister, Dakota Bruner, is a rising fourth-year pre-med student.
By the time Bruner was accepted early decision (since discontinued) to U.Va.'s School of Nursing, she knew she had made the right choice. She had found a caring and welcoming community.
"The U.Va. Nursing School application asked a lot of questions and it made me feel they invested a lot in their nurses," Bruner said. When the acceptance letter arrived, "I felt like I was part of something right away."
During her four years at the University, Bruner invested herself in the school and the University.
No stranger to leadership – she was president of her high school sophomore, junior and senior classes at Brook Pointe High School in Stafford – Bruner took on various leadership roles at the University, working as an ambassador for the African-American student community.
During her four years she was selected to attend the Emerging Black Leaders Retreat, participated in the Hip Hop Dance Crew and the University Dance Club, was her suite's representative to the First-Year House Council and a member of the Sigma Alpha Lambda National Leadership and Honors Organization.
She also tutored at Buford Middle School in Charlottesville through the University's Day in the Life Program, which connects at-risk middle and high school students with U.Va. students who serve as mentors and tutors.
She worked with the Arts & Sciences Student Council on diversity issues and helped revive a floundering organization, Minorities in Nursing Today, with the goal of giving minorities a voice and to developing collaboration between hospital professionals and the nursing students.
It was Bruner's involvement in the Office of African-American Affairs Peer Advisor Mentoring Program that struck a personal chord. Usually assigned nursing students to mentor, she understood the struggle to balance the demands of the nursing curriculum and working to support the University's African-American community.
"It's difficult to find your place and balance both communities," Bruner said. "I wanted to make an impact and help the new students make good decisions academically.
"To help them network in the African-American community and to be there for the first-year students is rewarding. It's nice to know someone relies on you."
Bruner also lent her leadership skills to the nursing community. She was a member of the National Student Nurses Association, and served as a delegate to its state convention in January 2010 and national convention in April 2010.
These opportunities "enabled me to be a leader outside the social aspects of the University and make a real connection with nursing," Bruner said. "It was interesting to see the government side of nursing and learn about policies and issues in nursing."
Her Distinguished Major thesis focused on obesity. She chose to study the African-American community in Charlottesville's Westhaven public housing community. She admired nursing professor Randy Jones' research in health disparities and prostate cancer in African-Americans and turned to him to help craft a study looking at the causes and contributions to obesity in African-American women. Obesity is a leading contributor to cardiovascular disease, an area in which Bruner hopes to apply her nursing skills after graduation.
Her professional focus wasn't clear to Bruner until she did her practicum in thoracic cardiovascular post-operative care during the last six-weeks of school. There she found a setting where she could share her gifts of leadership and analytical skills.
She saw herself reflected in her clinical mentor – her work ethic, the demand for continued research to keep abreast of changes in the field and her respectful, collaborative relationship with the physicians.
"My education as a nurse has taught me to think in a very analytical way and, through the bachelor of science in nursing program, to think in a holistic way," she said.
Bruner is grateful for her own health and her choice of a profession focused on helping others. Not one to focus all her attention in one area, Bruner also hopes to find ways to continue her work and lend her leadership skills to communities on health issues. "I am very passionate about preventive health," she said.