Kevina Cassell

College of Nursing alumna Kevina Cassell created “Surviving the Frontlines,” a 30-day self-care journal, to help nurses reconnect with their why during the pandemic. (Photo courtesy of Kevina Cassell)

When Kevina Cassell went to sleep, her “Surviving the Frontlines” 30-day self-care journal for nurses had about 12 views on her website. Those came mostly from herself and a few friends, family and supporters from the University of Missouri–St. Louis.

The scene was quite different when the College of Nursing alumna woke up.

“I had 1,450 views on that one item,” Cassell said. “It just kept going from there. In November for Black Friday, they sold out in three days. I added more to the website, and they sold out again. I was so blown away at the amount of support that I was getting from different nursing groups on Facebook.”

Cassell, who earned her BSN at UMSL in 2017, had initially created the journal at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic to help herself get in touch with her motivation to be a nurse before deciding to share her work with others. Since that first product, Cassell has created a student planner and 2021 vision journal.

When the pandemic hit, she was working as a dialysis nurse. Cassell says people don’t realize how sick patients undergoing dialysis treatments are, and she’d get close to patients and their families and struggle when they passed away suddenly.

COVID heightened that feeling because now her patients were suffering from more than kidney disease.

“I’d go home sad and in tears,” she said. “I was like, ‘Did I make the right decision? Why did I become a nurse?’ I had to sit down and think on what I loved about being a nurse, what got me here, why stick with it, why it’s so important. I wrote a journal for myself to help cope with the amount of sickness and death that we were being surrounded with.

“It really helped and reminded me how much I love being a nurse and my patients and how proud I am for pushing myself through the program. Once I had gotten through that moment, I wanted to do the same for other nurses.”

Cassell’s journal includes prompts intended to help nurses meditate on their reasons for becoming nurses and their purpose in nursing, positive affirmations, creating a self-care plan, personal goals, reflection, evaluation, self-empowerment prompts and more.

Creating the student planner came naturally afterward. Aside from the standard to-do aspect of a planner, Cassell included quotes from prominent figures in nursing or health care, spaces to record goals, and areas to reflect on what they are learning well or struggling with.

“This is a way for students to stay organized and inspired throughout their nursing journey,” she said. “It’s a place for them to write down their goals and their tasks so that they don’t get discouraged because it can get hard.”

Cassell found planners invaluable during her BSN studies at UMSL, so she was able to draw on her own experiences working through the academically rigorous program while balancing her outside obligations as a mother to a small child.

“It was challenging,” she said. “Because I was a parent, I couldn’t just not work, so it was always difficult for me because I had to work during the day and be up all night studying or taking courses in the evening.”

Nursing is Cassell’s second career. She earned her BBA from Georgia Southern University in 2005, finding a job in financial aid at Southeast Missouri State University after graduation. She went on to earn her MBA from SEMO and then became a human resources representative at the NCR Corporation in Duluth, Georgia, after graduation.

But after a few years, she realized it was time to make a change.

“Traditional corporate, it’s just paperwork,” Cassell said. “There’s no passion there. Nursing allowed me to be who I was. I’m a nurturer at heart. I’m a giver. I love helping people. I love taking care of people.”

Cassell had an idea that she might find a good professional fit in nursing administration, but she had to become a nurse first. She returned to Missouri, began working in administration at Washington University in St. Louis and enrolled in the UMSL College of Nursing.

The nursing program tested her but supportive faculty such as David Bell, Amanda Finley, Christine Recktenwald, Joan Ruppert and Sheila Grigsby made the difference for Cassell’s studies.

“When you’re in nursing, people’s lives are in your hands,” she said. “It’s life or death, and you have to know your stuff. I put a lot of pressure on myself to know and actually understand, not just the material, but the why behind the material. I want the patient to have the best outcome. I want them to come out alive and well.”

After graduating from the program and becoming a registered nurse, Cassell worked in rehab as a traumatic brain injury and stroke recovery nurse and as a dialysis nurse. Then, in June 2020, she accepted a position in employee health at Baptist Memorial Hospital in Memphis where her job functions include helping manage occupational health and safety related issues and prevention of infectious disease. Her department is also responsible for helping manage the COVID process for their employees – including everything from minimizing employee exposure to overseeing COVID vaccination clinics and post-vaccination observations.

When Cassell began nursing school, she never would have imagined she’d get into nursing entrepreneurship. But her current job is exactly the sort of thing she had in mind.

“We’re just trying to do our part and keep the community COVID free,” Cassell said. “This role was actually a perfect fit for me. My goal as a nurse was always to go into nursing administration, and this job is preparing me for that path. It also blends all three of my degrees together.”

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Jessica Rogen

Jessica Rogen

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