From Newborns to Cancer Patients: Mother and Daughter Take Different Paths to Nursing Care

By: Debra Holtz

Shynell Cooper had been considering becoming a lawyer until one day during her senior year in high school when her mother encouraged her to attend the birth of her cousin’s baby. After talking to the nurses in the hospital delivery room, Cooper turned to her mother and said, “I want to be a nurse.”

Cooper is about to realize that dream. She will graduate this year from the Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing program at Samuel Merritt University (SMU).

Not only does Cooper continue to share her aspirations with her mother, but now textbooks and study tips as well. That’s because her mother, Sharon Simms-Cooper, is also studying to become a nurse in SMU’s Entry Level Master of Science in Nursing - Case Management program.

Coming into the world and going out

Simms-Cooper decided on a mid-career change after years spent managing contracts and grants for breast cancer research, student mental health, and clinical trials at the University of California and Kaiser Permanente.

“I wanted to deal more with people than with paper,” she says.

Cooper believes she inspired her mother to pursue a nursing career, but Simms-Cooper says she has been considering the profession ever since the late 1990s when her parents were both diagnosed with cancer and she became their primary caregiver.

“I had to jump in and learn as much as I could to be able to talk to their physicians,” says Simms-Cooper. She recalls taking her father to radiation therapy in the same building on SMU’s Oakland campus where she now attends classes and simulation labs.

Drawing on their earlier life experiences, Cooper hopes to work in labor and delivery while Simms-Cooper wants to serve on a palliative care team working with the families of oncology patients.

“Shynell has an interest in people coming into the world and I have an interest as they are going out,” says Simms-Cooper. 

Family photos tell their story

The mother and daughter motivate each other in their studies, often discussing health care issues such as heart failure over breakfast at their Oakland home. If all goes according to plan, the two women will participate in the same pinning ceremony to mark the completion of their prelicensure studies and take their board exams in early 2020.

Another thing they have in common is their membership in Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., an organization of predominantly black, college-educated women dedicated to public service. Simms-Cooper has been a member for 35 years, and her daughter joined the organization last year.

Family photos help tell the story of their academic journey. One picture from 1993 shows Simms-Cooper carrying her 2-year-old daughter across the stage when she earned a master’s degree in public health administration. Another, taken two decades later, captures Simms-Cooper beaming with pride as Cooper stands in a cap and gown at her Howard University graduation.

“I once carried my daughter, then she stood on her own, and now we are coming together as we pursue our nursing education,” says Simms-Cooper. “I am very proud of my daughter and she is proud of me too.”

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