Wife's Accident Spurs Husband to Complete Nursing Degree

05/27/03    Portland, Ore.

Nursing student will be among more than 850 graduates at Oregon Health & Science University's 2003 Commencement scheduled for Wednesday, June 4, at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in downtown Portland.

If it hadn't been for a traffic accident, Andy Paulson, of Portland, might not have discovered what he really wanted to do in life. He had earned his bachelor's in geology and was working in Montana when he and his wife, Alicia, moved west in August 1997, just a month after their marriage. Seven months later, she was crossing Grand Avenue in Portland when a truck hit her, causing serious injury to her left foot. "Through taking care of her and spending a lot of time at OHSU Hospital, I realized that this was the career I wanted," Paulson said.

Alicia underwent six surgeries to reconstruct her foot and ankle, using muscles from her back and skin grafts from her thigh. Paulson was impressed with the doctors and nurses. "We were new in Portland and didn't have anybody, and these people were working really hard, as they do every day in the hospital," he said. "It was an incredible thing. At the time of the accident I'd be at the hospital and everything seemed important. I knew I wanted my time to matter as much." The experience led him to volunteer on the trauma floor, which strengthened his resolve to become a nurse.

Even so, the road to a nursing career was bumpy. Paulson had been working in construction when he first got to Oregon, but he found a job as an environmental geologist and enrolled in night classes at Portland Community College in 1998. He didn't tell his boss about the classes because he didn't want to be seen as lacking in dedication. But leading two lives took its toll. When he made a mistake he felt he shouldn't have made, he quit his geology job, went back to construction and took one class at a time to fulfill his nursing school prerequisites. In the fall of 2001, he entered OHSU School of Nursing to earn a bachelor of science degree in nursing -- his second bachelor's degree.

Paulson, a student nurse technician at the Portland Veterans Affairs Medical Center, is blessed with two assets for any nurse: physical strength (he stands 6 feet 2 inches) and empathy. "Nobody belongs in a hospital," he said, "but there are people who are thrown in, as we were. They don't know where to park -- nothing. That's the population I want to work with -- Joe Blow. I want to make him feel less alone, less frightened."

Paulson turns 32 on May 29, right before graduation. He and Alicia plan to stay in Portland, where she has started a successful business making handbags and photo albums. Andy said Alicia is likely to have chronic pain from the accident her whole life. His education, he said, "is all secret research on how I can take better care of her."