What Nourishes the Soul

Spring 2020 As Seen in Our Spring 2020 Issue
What Nourishes the Soul

When she finally leaned in, DNP student found fulfillment in nursing.

Written By Steve st. Angelo  |  Photo by Chris Hartlove 

The Asparagus Growers Association’s loss has been nursing’s big gain.

Neysa Ernst, MSN, RN, a DNP student in the executive track, has been earning a lot of initials and a lot of responsibility at Johns Hopkins for someone who at one time wanted no part of nursing. Ernst grew up in inner-city Philadelphia, one of six children. Dad knew the value of a steady job. “My father always wanted me to be a nurse, and at that time nursing to me was the least attractive career. They all looked so unhappy. ‘Daddy, look at those people, wearing their pajamas [scrubs], they don’t have any makeup on … I am far too glamorous for that job.’ ”

When he kept pushing, she pulled a fast one, taking a scholarship from the asparagus folks to earn a degree in food marketing from St. Joseph’s University in Philly and went to work for the likes of Johnson & Johnson, Sysco, and Sheraton Hotels. She traveled the country. A younger sister fulfilled Dad’s wish and became a nurse. Whew. Still, as they together cared for an aunt, Sis offered as how Neysa was a natural. One sunny day in Annapolis, “the only other person at an Irish bar” was a fellow in medical sales who declared to Ernst and her husband, apropos of nothing, that if he had it to do over again, he’d persuade his wife to go into nursing.

Whatever. Back at her beautiful office in Columbia, overlooking a lake, Ernst figured she already had it all. Of course, her mother called to correct her: “You are not happy with what you do. All the stuff you’re doing is meaningless. … You have to go back to school and get a nursing degree.”

As Ernst explains, “You take the hint. I wasn’t going to wait for a burning bush or the Blessed Mother to come down and be, like, ‘Neysa Ernst, This Is Your Life.’ ” In 2012, she helped open Halsted 4, a 14-bed adult inpatient unit at Johns Hopkins Hospital, and today she is nurse manager of the hospital’s Biocontainment Unit on Osler 8.

[Read more about the BCU.]

Unhappy nurses? Not on her watch. She cites JoAnn Ioannou, a DNP grad who once ran Osler 4’s nursing staff (“the teamwork was so amazing”), Kelly Caslin, a current DNP candidate, and Karen Haller, former VP of nursing, as the voices of wisdom behind her own leadership style: strong, smart, supportive, no micromanaging.

“Karen told me to take the toughest job you can find in the very beginning because everything will be easy after that.” As a nurse, Ernst has found purpose and meaning. It isn’t always glamorous. She takes out the trash: “I don’t ask my team to do anything I wouldn’t do.” That includes happily wearing her pajamas to work just like everybody else.

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