Julie Balk is an alumnus of Westminster College’s undergraduate nursing program who, after receiving her master’s and doctorate from the University of Utah, came back to teach at Westminster.
Balk, now teaching masters and undergraduate of nursing, said she loves the small community and being more than just faculty member. She said that she enjoys being a mentor and even learning from her students.
“Julie is by far one of the best professors I have ever had,” said Stacie Pearce, family nurse practitioner and former student of Balk’s. “She teaches in real-world situations and can articulate complex medical processes in a way that makes sense. Always a student advocate, Julie would strive to minimize “busy work” so we could focus on things we would use for our boards and in practice. Her awesome personality and passion made her lectures interesting and memorable.”
The Forum sat down with Balk to talk about her journey and how she ended up back at Westminster after several years. This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and conciseness.
Q: Tell me about your professional journey starting with your bachelor’s degree to being back here as a professor.
A: I originally came to Westminster for my bachelor’s degree and graduated in the early 80s. It was a great educational experience from an undergraduate experience. What inspired me most, were my faculty in my undergraduate classes. When you graduate as a nurse you have a career as well as just a degree, but the type of learning they incorporated in the classroom always made me want to do more.
About 10 years after my undergraduate, the role of the nurse practitioner was expanding and becoming more common practice. A group of cardiologists that I had worked with in the intensive care unit for 10 years wanted me to help take care of their patients, from a nursing as well as a medical perspective.
At that point, Westminster didn’t have a masters program so I went to University of Utah and received a masters in nursing but with a focus of a family nurse practitioner. And went to work as a health care provider doing a mixed role of medical management but always including that nursing.
The more I did that the more I realized I wanted to come back and give back to other students the way I had been given in my education.
Q: Why did you come back to specifically teach at Westminster?
A: I think what brings me back to Westminster is that I’m not just a faculty member, I’m not just someone who stands up in front of the classroom and lectures on information. It’s about the whole relationship with students. Westminster really creates an environment for learning. […] Westminster gives me the opportunity to have those conversations, those learning opportunities and really for people to learn from each other in real time.
Q: Can you explain what it was like to open your own clinic?
A: Healthcare is rapidly changing and it’s difficult as a provider. […] I was approached from a headhunter who wanted a practitioner that deliver healthcare in a different way. An employer was trying to bring healthcare on-site for their employees. The primary motivation to bring healthcare on-site was to reduce their employee turnover rate and financially break even.
My goal was essentially to make healthcare easy for their employees. So instead of if they were sick, having to call a provider, leave work, go have the visit, then perhaps go to the pharmacy if they needed prescription, come back to work; they tried to negate all those difficult parts of obtaining health care. […] Fifty percent of my visits are about disease management, like high blood pressure, and the other part of that is health promotion or teaching wellness.
Q: What do you love about education, specifically higher education and the master’s program here at Westminster?
A: The world is much more complicated […] you can get information from a lot of different places, Siri, Google, Wikipedia; but what I love about teaching here is it’s connecting the dots, critical thinking and really learning a plethora of facts but how do you make that into an actual learning environment. […] I appreciate at Westminster that I have that opportunity to not just disseminate facts but to truly learn and teach.
Q: You mentioned you were alumni of the year a while back, when was that and what was that like?
A: It was in 2011, and it was just a great honor for me because Westminster has a long history of incredible graduates. So to be acknowledged from the alumni association as their alumni of the year, was very meaningful for me. All my children were there. My middle son was a student at the time. My older son flew in from his graduate program in Maine without me knowing about it.
Q: What are some major accomplishments in your life?
A: I’m very proud of my career from contributions to the field, in nursing as well as nurse practitioner. I saw a patient a few years ago who I had seen from her two-week-old visit into adulthood. I thought, ‘Wow I have contributed to her life significantly, helping her from being a newborn into transitioning to college.’ I have loved my career in nursing in all regards. I think just to be able to be 35 years out from your undergraduate education and say, ‘I’d do it all again,’ is a nice place to be.
Q: How do you think Westminster prepared you for your other degrees and your career?
A: I felt very well prepared as I graduated to take my registered nurse boards. By the time I graduated, Westminster was going through a lot of challenges in the early 80s, primarily being financially sound. When I graduated, my nursing graduating class was seven individuals. We started in the upper 20s and ended with seven. Those of us that finished, we pride ourselves on being very tenacious because we dealt with the instability and sort of unknowns. […] Westminster taught me more than just being a nurse and that’s what I really appreciated with the education.