“To my constant buddy, study partner and best friend, congratulations on your graduation—and happy Mother’s Day.”
Rare it is when those words all fit one person, but that is the case for Gabrielle Miller.
Miller, 48, and Maddison Miller, 23, both of Rapid City, will each receive Bachelor of Science degrees from the South Dakota State University’s College of Nursing Rapid City site this week. The mother-daughter tandem has been working toward this point since deciding they needed to change their life direction more than three years ago.
The Millers will take part in the pinning ceremony in Rapid City May 6 and then walk across the stage at the Brookings graduation May 9.
“Being able to walk the stage with my mom is something I’ve looked forward to for a long time. It’s exciting,” said Maddison Miller, who finished high school in 2016 at Rapid City Stevens, spending only her senior year there. Her earlier education was in Pennsylvania.
Gabrielle adds, “I wouldn’t have it any other way. I wouldn’t want to have it done it without her.”
In early January 2018, Maddison was getting ready to go back to Black Hills State for the second semester of her junior year as a biology major. Gabrielle, a former radiologic technologist, was looking toward the high school graduation of her youngest child, Sean, that May and wondering about what to do next with her life.
She left her career behind in 2006 to raise her children, but that stage of life was wrapping up.
“It happened so fast. It was almost like a dare. I wanted to go back into health care and Maddie said, ‘If you do nursing, I’ll do nursing,’” Gabrielle recalled. Maddison didn’t need any more persuasion. Her goal had been to become a veterinarian but decided she would rather get into health care sooner than the 10 additional years of schooling required for medical practice.
Her biology coursework helped with some of the nursing prerequisites, but largely it was “starting from scratch,” Maddison said.
For Gabrielle, going back to school was an even greater challenge.
After all, she had not been to school since earning her Associate of Science degree in 1992. “Initially, it was very difficult. Everything was online. Even the books were online. I think I adapted fairly quickly. Now I’m not intimated by that at all anymore … (but) that whole first year I was really stressed,” particularly if she had a writing assignment, Gabrielle said.
“Writing—I used to stress so bad. It took me forever and there was lot of paper writing I did in that first year. Writing was very difficult. ‘Use APA format.’ What’s that? I didn’t know how to do citations. (But) now, it’s a lot easier. I’m not nearly as intimidated. (In fact,) instructors seem to like my writing. They say I have a sophisticated style of writing,” Gabrielle said.
Now Gabrielle only uses Maddison as a final proofreader rather than a writing coach.
Bonding and encouraging
However, throughout their three years of prenursing and nursing courses, the Millers have been constant study companions.
“We spend our time studying and bouncing ideas off of one another,” Gabrielle said. They complement each other well. Maddison said, “She definitely does get the better grades (3.91 vs. 3.30). She’s good at finding ways to memorize things and to focus on the key thing.”
Gabrielle said of Maddison, “She’s really good at” …. “comic relief,” Maddison interjected.
They each have taken on the role of motivator. “Whoever is having the better week,” Maddison said. Gabrielle added, “Usually, we’re not both on a low point. Maddison will say ‘You’ve got this! What’s a matter with you?’ I can do the same for her.” Maddison explained, “I would struggle with some of the more conceptual classes. I love the actual science behind everything. She helps me with understanding concepts, figuring out what they’re asking for.”
‘Comes back like old hat’
Gabrielle said her former career proved resourceful during clinicals. Even though it had been 15 years, the skills “come back old hat,” she said.
Most of her career as a radiologic technologist was spent in the emergency department of a Level 1 trauma hospital in Pittsburgh working in CT scans. She knew the “tips and tricks for starting an IV” and understood how a medical team functioned. By learning the nurses’ roles, that understanding multiplied, she said.
As they advanced through clinicals, the Millers became separated. They never worked on the same patient, but they shared similar experiences.
Gabrielle said, “There is an adrenaline rush you get from some things. We’re both into emergency care.” Maddison added, “There’s not many people you can talk to about blood and guts over dinner.”
Descriptions of leaky blood vessels and masses of exposed skin, muscle, nerves and fat don’t faze Maddison. “I grew up in a health care household. All the blood and gore didn’t bother me. I wanted to have my own stories.” Her dad was a radiology manager in the IT area and her stepdad was a scrub tech before becoming a clinical instructor for Medical Device Co.
Maddison is looking to gain her own blood-and-gore stories at a hospital in St. Robert, Missouri, where her boyfriend lives. If she has her wish, she will be working in the emergency department. Gabrielle has already secured an emergency room position at Monument Health in Rapid City. They will take their nursing boards in mid-June.
But this week is a time for celebration. They’ve already made the trip to Hobby Lobby and have decorated their mortar boards with glitter and sparkling hearts and flowers.
The graduation at Brookings is 10 a.m. Sunday on the historic College Green, so they’re hoping for fair weather. Inclement weather moves the ceremony to Frost Arena. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, their family and friends would not be allowed to attend. In addition to husband and boyfriend, the Millers will be joined by a friend from Pittsburgh and her daughter.
‘Excited to see what our future holds’
Reflecting, Gabrielle said, “We were close before starting classes together, but I think we got closer even still during this process.”
Now that their common bond of school assignments has ended and Maddison’s move is approaching, “there is some anxiety,” Gabrielle admits. “We’ve been there to lean on each other. But I’m really excited to see what our future holds. I just want to keep pushing her to be a CRNA (certified registered nurse anesthetist, Maddison’s eventual goal).
“It’s a bittersweet time really.”
Maddison thinks back to their first days in nursing school when fifth-semester students told them what they could expect.
“It seemed like such a large pill to swallow, but looking back, I’m glad I did it,” she said.