We need more exceptional IU nurses

By Jill Jansen

Connie (Zuttermeister) Ferentz knows a lot about nursing. During her 41-year career as a nurse with the Department of Veterans Affairs, Connie worked in coronary and medical intensive care units, in telemetry and as a dialysis nurse. She served as the head nurse of the neurosurgical unit and was one of the first members of the hospital’s IV team. As a skilled clinical nurse, Connie knows that at its very core, nursing is also about being there for people when they need it.

“You can go into a patient’s room and say, ‘I’ve got an order to put in an IV,’ or you can go in and tell the patient what you’re there to do and then explain what’s going to happen and why,’” says Connie, who graduated from IU School of Nursing in 1971. “For me, it wasn’t just about placing an IV, I would spend time with patients, helping them get a drink of water or setting up their meal tray. There were many times I can remember patients bringing up concerns with me that they hadn't brought up to the person taking care of them; it was because I was there and paying attention.”

As an IU nursing student in the late 1960s, Connie was present for some significant milestones in the school’s history. Her class was the first to wear the traditional pink nursing uniforms without the white apron. And as a junior nursing student, she was among the group of student nurses that moved patients and equipment from Robert W. Long Hospital to the new University Hospital on the Indiana University Medical Center campus in 1970.

To complete the advanced nursing course prior to graduation, Connie took a position in the coronary intensive care unit at the Roudebush VA Medical Center in Indianapolis. She stayed at the Indianapolis VA for six years before transferring to the Zablocki VA Medical Center in Milwaukee, where she spent the remainder of her nursing career. In addition to serving patients, Connie was an advocate for her fellow nurses as a leader in the local nurses’ union.

“I saw how the union could represent staff nurses and give them a voice in how care was delivered, and I wanted to be a part of that,” says Connie, who served as both president and vice president of the union during her time with the VA.

Since the 1980s, Connie has extended her desire to help by supporting the next generation of IU nurses through donations to the school’s scholarship programs and student emergency fund.

“My mother always said to my sister, Candy, and me that education is something that no one can take away from you,” recalls Connie, who grew up near Cambridge City, Indiana. “Scholarships were a tremendous help to me and my family when I was in school—not only do they make a difference, but they reward people for a job well done.” (Connie’s sister, Candace Zuttermeister Cain, graduated from IU in 1973 and spent more than 40 years as a high school teacher in Connersville, Indiana. She passed away in 2020.)

Of recent contributions to the school’s student emergency fund, Connie cites the financial hardship caused by the pandemic and other factors beyond students’ control.

“I was pleased to see that IU is offering this emergency fund program for nursing students,” Connie says. “It’s one thing to be able to pay for your tuition, but there are other expenses that can cause students to come up short. I believe students need to have access to a fund like this. Donating to this fund and the scholarships is important because we need more exceptional IU nurses.”