Keely Zimmerman

“I was kind of a sick kid growing up,” says Keely Zimmerman (HWS '20). “I spent a lot of time in and out of the hospital with health issues that couldn't really be figured out. The health care world was unfortunately a world that I was very familiar with. ”

She paid a lot of visits to the emergency room and remembers how important having a good team of providers was to her and her family. “I wanted to be in the health care world, and I didn't know what part,” she says. “As a patient I had seen so much … between nurses, doctors, PTs, all of that.”

Keely began studying kinesiology but soon realized that nursing was a better fit. “I really like that one-on-one patient interaction. I like being with them day in, day out, and also that was my exposure. The nurses were the ones that were with me, for all of my stuff. So that's how I got into that.”

A Little Bit of Everything

Keely Zimmerman in front of the Level I Trauma Center entrance at Children's Minnesota

Keely graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Health and Wellbeing Sciences and a minor in Public Health with a concentration in sexuality. She then went on to complete a Master of Nursing which helped her land a job in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) at Children's Hospital in Minneapolis. Just recently she moved to the emergency department there.

“They're both acute, the intensity is there,” she says. “But the NICU kids are more chronic. They could be there for months. Where in the emergency department, the acuity can be pretty high, but they're only there for a very limited amount of time.”

It’s very different from the type of nursing students are exposed to in nursing school, she explains. There, they might put you in a unit where you have a set of patients that you keep for a while, but in the ER unit you’ll have a variety of patients.

“Everything is very go, go, go,” Keely says. “There's really no pretty bow on anything. It's very raw, but that's what I like about it. I could have eight patients, two are in for an ear infection, one has a broken foot, one can't breathe, and then a couple are in for strep throat. Or I could have one patient with mental health issues. It's just such a wide range, and I really like that. It's kind of the same thing as the (HWS) major. I wanted a little bit of everything.”

Finding Her Calling

Being a nursing student in 2020 was intense. Keely and her classmates weren’t fully practicing nurses yet, but they were surrounded by the effects of COVID.

”It was kind of a weird position to be in, watching where the weaknesses were in our health care system and how it fell on the providers,” she says. “Everyone across the board was suffering in some way, shape, or form. That was very difficult to watch.”

On the flip side, they witnessed the resiliency of the patients and caregivers in the face of uncertainty. “You have to acknowledge where the bad is, you know, but to find ways to be resilient in a flawed system is just incredible to watch. It definitely was something I took away (from) nursing school."

Her first rotation was in an adult surgical unit, which was admitting overflow COVID patients. “We were only there for eight weeks, and every time we came back, less and less beds were non-COVID beds.”

Eventually, some of their clinical days had to be moved online because there were so many COVID cases and not enough non-COVID patients for them to take care of. It was sometimes tough to see an end to the pandemic.

“But when we had our pediatric rotation,” Keely says. “I just fell in love with it. That was where I found my calling and was like, okay, every job has its pluses and minuses, and in health care they can be really big.”

Key Takeaways

Keely Zimmerman in front of the Level I Trauma Center entrance at Children's Minnesota

Study Abroad in Manoa, Hawaii
“It was an incredible experience, one that I talk about all the time. It truly was life changing. I just had the most wonderful time there. I got to meet some really incredible people.” Keely took classes on indigenous women's health, Hawaiian history, and sexuality.

Finding the Right Major
“You don't have to settle for a major that you don't like. I got to design my own major because I wasn't finding something that was working for me.” 

Having a Helpful Advisor
“Amy [Burger Sanchez, her advisor] is so knowledgeable. She's a phenomenal advisor, and I felt so bad every time I went to her for a question. She would say, ‘I've never encountered that before, or I don't know, I've never thought of that. Let's figure it out.’ Amy was so good at figuring out a problem and solving it.” 

Advice for Students

Use your resources and take any chance you can get. Even though I was in the middle of a pandemic, I still got to study abroad. You never know what you can do. The resources I had within my major opened up a ton of doors for me, and it really was knowing what you have and using it or just asking. That’s how I got to study abroad. That’s what helped me get into my master’s in nursing.”

Memorable Course

Blood, Bodies and Science with Susan Craddock (GWSS 3203W)
“A lot of students were pre-health or pre-med, and we were talking about problems in science and how those can relate to health care. It got us thinking on a much deeper and more critical level of things we see in science. 

“It was right in 2020, and we were in class for two or three months, and we never came back to in-person. The professor is incredibly brilliant, and she just went above and beyond trying to keep us engaged and tried to get us to care about this while we're dealing with the pandemic. I just really appreciate not only the content but her drive to be a professor and to be a teacher, because those are two different things. She was phenomenal.”


Keely is a recipient of a CCAPS Fibiger Award and a William Buchta Scholarship.


Mia Boos is a writer and content strategist with the College of Continuing and Professional Studies, covering the College’s graduate programs and undergraduate individualized degree programs. She joined the CCAPS Marketing team in 2014 and has worked for Thomson Reuters and New York University. Connect with her via LinkedIn