From youngest in program to distinguished alumna: Nursing graduate charts course for the future

Belma Mahmutovic, nursing award recipient

20-year-old Belma Mahmutovic now works in the Emergency Department at Missouri Baptist Medical Center. In her free time, she loves to get outside to bike, hike or swim – often with family members to whom she remains exceptionally close. (Photo by August Jennewein)

“She can save a life but can’t buy a drink,” Joan Ruppert said of one of the graduating students at the College of Nursing’s pinning ceremony in August. “Oh well, saving a life is much more important anyway.”

Ruppert, program director for the accelerated Bachelor of Science in nursing program at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, was speaking of 20-year-old Belma Mahmutovic.

Mahmutovic received the Shirley A. Martin Distinguished Nurse Award, an honor that recognizes remarkable personal and professional growth on the part of a student nurse over the course of their studies.

“Belma has grown so much in her self-confidence since beginning the program last summer,” Ruppert continued. “She works very hard to be the best nurse possible. Her expectations of herself are almost higher than mine, and that’s pretty hard to beat!”

Mahmutovic does indeed have high expectations for herself. She’s a self-proclaimed “all-time perfectionist and overachiever” who came to UMSL with more than 30 hours of college credits already earned thanks to the advanced credit courses she took while still in high school.

While completing her BSN, she was an active member of the Student Nurses Association and the Multicultural Student Services committee, a volunteer for Kids Vision for Life as well as other early childhood development organizations, and a well-known source of constant support and positivity for her classmates.

“For 15 months, Monday through Friday, we spent every day together,” Mahmutovic said of her and her classmates’ time in the program. “The bonds and friendships are one of a kind.”

Such superior involvement and accomplishment at such a young age begs the question: From where does all of this motivation to succeed come? In Mahmutovic’s case, future success is deeply connected to past sacrifice.

Her parents made the difficult choice to leave their homeland of Bosnia and Herzegovina – with their 4-year-old only child in tow – in 2000. They fled during the aftermath of mass genocide in Srebrenica and settled in south St. Louis County with the hopes of a better and safer life. Little Belma grew up in the strengthening light of their labors.

“My parents worked long and hard to establish foundations for a stable life here in St. Louis,” Mahmutovic says. “Both worked demanding jobs while making the effort to also learn English and get accustomed to a whole new world. They gave it their all to make my life easier and provide for a brighter, better future for me.”

This example of constantly “giving one’s all” resonated so deeply for Mahmutovic that the approach has become part of her own life’s philosophy.

“I like a challenge, and I like to step outside of my comfort zone and live life to the fullest potential,” she said.

Stepping out of her comfort zone is something she has to do regularly in her current position at Missouri Baptist Medical Center, where she works in the Emergency Department and will transition from graduate staff nurse to registered nurse upon the completion of her NCLEX exam.

The acute care environment is one Mahmutovic particularly enjoys.

“I cannot stress enough how much I love this type of nursing,” she said. “No two days are alike – every day you learn something new, and every day you see something different, and that is what I want out of a career.”

She also wants to connect with people – to provide support that goes beyond the basics of excellent care.

“A nurse is an advocate,” she explained. “Someone any one person can turn to in times of distress, fear and unease.”

As busy as Mahmutovic is in the wake of her graduation, one might think that further schooling would be the furthest thing from her mind. And yet her plans to return to pursue a graduate degree within the next couple of years are definite.

“My long-term goal is to become a family nurse practitioner,” she said. “With a career in nursing the sky is truly the limit.”

Mahmutovic’s other long-term goal?

“To make my parents proud. I feel like that is the only way I can show appreciation and give thanks to them for all that they have done – and still do – for me. They have given me the world, and from very early on, I knew that striving to succeed in life would truly bring pride, joy and contentment into their hearts after everything they have endured.”

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