Student Story

Nursing Student Receives Excellence in Nursing Practice Award from New England Regional Black Nurses Association

Samantha Normilus ’19BSN, ’26MSN
Samantha Normilus ’19BSN, ’26MSN. Photo by Ashley Purvis.

“The Simmons School of Nursing has a reputation for being rigorous and challenging. And when you leave here, people recognize that a Simmons degree has weight and that Simmons alumnae/i know their stuff.”

On February 9, Samantha Normilus ’19BSN, ’26MSN, received the Excellent in Nursing Practice Award from the New England Regional Black Nurses Association, Inc. (NERBNA). A Dana-Farber Cancer Institute nurse who is pursuing the online MSN-FNP program at Simmons, Normilus spoke with us about being a NERBNA awardee, the rewards of oncology nursing, and the supportive community she found at Simmons.

When Samantha Normilus ’19BNS, ’26MSN received the Excellence in Nursing Practice Award from the New England Regional Black Nurses Association, Inc. (NERBNA), she was surprised and astounded. “Because I knew how accomplished NERBNA awardees are, I am deeply honored to receive this recognition just five years into my nursing career,” she says.

A colleague at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, where Normilus works as an oncology nurse, nominated her for the NERBNA award. According to their philosophy and mission statement, NERBNA works “to unify, educate and increase the number of African American Nurses in this country. . . . [The organization is also] committed to implementing the necessary changes to ensure that optimum health care is available to African Americans and other underserved communities.”

NERBNA awardees demonstrate capacious knowledge of the field and employ creative approaches to clinical nursing. They also mentor or serve as sources of inspiration to their colleagues and support racially, ethnically, and culturally diverse populations. In addition to the nursing practice category, NERBNA honors exceptional nurses in the areas of research and leadership.

On February 9, NERBNA presented Normilus with her award at a special ceremony at the Royal Sonesta in Cambridge, MA. “The ceremony was beautiful,” recalls Normilus. “It was so inspiring to be present in a room full of Black and Brown nurses who got to speak about their accomplishments and be publicly recognized. . . . Oftentimes nurses of color do not get the credit they deserve because they are marginalized or hidden when working at predominantly White institutions. NERBNA offers us a space to gather and be celebrated.”

In 2023, Normilus’ mother, Dr. Cherlie Magny-Normilus, an Assistant Professor of Nursing at Boston College, received a NERBNA award for her excellent research. “When I think about the attributes of a NERBNA awardee, I think of my mom; she is very compassionate, hardworking, and dedicated to her profession,” says Normilus. “NERBNA awardees are also leaders and ground-breakers in their fields. They push the field forward — not just for nurses of color but for everyone. Winning this award was very special for me and for my family.”

Appreciating a Demanding Profession

From a young age, Normilus was motivated to care for people. For a time, she contemplated being a pediatrician. “My mom was a great role model for me. She did a lot of her nursing training when I grew up, so I witnessed her professionalization,” recalls Normilus. “She always told me that nursing is not as simple as you think. Her journey illuminated for me how nursing is a diverse and challenging field, and one that affords various degrees of autonomy.”

During her last year in Simmons’ Bachelor of Science in Nursing program, Normilus began a job as a patient care assistant at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Working in a bone marrow transplant unit, she became immersed in oncology and hematology. Following her 2019 graduation, Normilus worked as a night nurse on the oncology unit for two years.

In 2022, Normilus became a research nurse at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, where she specializes in lymphoma. “Oncology is a hard area of focus, given the gravity of cancer. But as a young assistant, I observed nurses who were tremendously dedicated to their work and their patients. They cared for some of the sickest people I have ever seen. Their care and compassion were so genuine, and they formed deep, lifelong relationships with their patients. These nurses inspired me to work in oncology care, and now I know that it is my calling,” explains Normilus.

Although the work is grueling, Normilus finds it tremendously rewarding. “For most patients, cancer treatment is a journey, during which you become really invested in patient care,” she says.

According to Normilus, nurses have insight into the vulnerability of the human condition. “Being an oncology nurse gives you a deeper appreciation for life, family, and friends because you are always seeing sickness and death. . . . But we also experience instances of pure joy. For example, when you can tell a patient that, after years of treatment, they are in complete remission, it is an extraordinary moment for them and for us.”

Rigor, Community, and Mentorship at Simmons

Born and raised in Massachusetts, Normilus was keen to attend college out-of-state. But when an admissions officer from Simmons visited her high school, it convinced her to consider Simmons. “This woman, who happened to be a woman of color, told us about the amazing community at Simmons. Her comments resonated with me, as Black and Brown people do not always feel welcome in predominantly White spaces,” recounts Normilus.

When she arrived at Simmons as a Nursing major, Normilus realized that she made the right decision. “The Simmons School of Nursing has a reputation for being rigorous and challenging. And when you leave here, people recognize that a Simmons degree has weight and that Simmons alumnae/i know their stuff.”

Normilus developed close bonds with her classmates at Simmons. “I found a rich community of Black and Brown students with whom I connected,” recalls Normilus. “We helped one another get through an arduous educational program, and we were invested in leadership and job preparation. . . . I was also a Resident Advisor, so I became very involved in the campus community,” says Normilus. “Even though I am currently an online student in the MSN-FNP program, I still have access to amazing students, faculty, and library resources. The warmth of the Simmons community remains palpable.”

One key resource that Simmons offered Normilus is the Dotson Bridge and Mentoring Program. Directed by Associate Professor of Practice LaDonna Christian, this program provides personalized guidance and career counseling opportunities for ALANA (African American, Latinx, Asian, and Native American) students in the Nursing programs. “Dr. Christian is superb, and I loved that Black and Brown nursing students in the program received one-on-one mentorship [with faculty members and BSN alumnae/i] throughout their entire time at Simmons,” says Normilus. “We also have study groups through Dotson that really help us get through a rigorous program.”

Mental, Social, and Spiritual Counsel

For Simmons students and aspiring nurses, Normilus recommends three avenues of support: a self-curated plan, community, and faith.

“It is very helpful to structure your nursing education. Ask yourself: What kind of nursing do you enjoy? And, a decade from now, what do you wish your career to look like?” Normilus advises. “When you are in such a rigorous program, you must set goals for yourself. Nursing is a serious profession that comes with much responsibility.”

Second, Normilus emphasizes the need for interpersonal support from family, chosen family, professors, and mentors. “Community is vital, not only for academic support but for emotional and mental health support as well,” she says. “Also, try to connect with a working nurse or someone who inspires you. Lean on them and ask them for advice.”

Finally, Normilus remains rooted in spirituality. “I am a very faith-based person, and this was of paramount importance for me to get through my Nursing program. I also joined the Simmons Gospel Choir during my freshman and sophomore years, and I found a local church in Boston that I attended while at Simmons,” she says. Normilus suggests that all students — including those who do not subscribe to a specific creed or belong to an organized religion — should address their spiritual needs. “Tending to our spiritual bodies is so crucial.”

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Kathryn Dickason