Our Nurses Know: Education
Each week, John Sandefur strikes a balancing act — working hard to care for the current patients at Michigan Medicine while looking to the future as he trains the next generation of nurses.
“Me and my team are responsible for patients in pulmonary medicine,” said Sandefur, a nurse practitioner on 8D who first joined Michigan Medicine in 2007. “We treat patients who have undergone lung transplants, who have cystic fibrosis, interstitial lung disease, those with asthma and patients on ventilators … we do what we can to help them heal.”
Once a week, however, Sandefur works with a much younger group — students in the U-M School of Nursing.
“There’s something so rewarding about watching people learn, grown and mature right before your eyes,” Sandefur said. “That’s why I’m committed to education and working with students.”
‘A drive to do good’
Sandefur’s career as a nurse and teacher came naturally to him — though his path was anything but routine.
“I’ve always had a drive to do good for people,” Sandefur said, pointing out that he was active in a high school program for students interested in health care. Once he graduated, Sandefur joined the military, where he served for 10 years in the U.S. Marine Corps. Eventually, he worked in a number of industrial jobs, including a stint on an assembly line for Ford Motor Company.
But even as he built cars, Sandefur’s passion to help others stayed strong.
“At one point, I decided to go back to school and pursue social work,” Sandefur said. “Then my wife, Ella — who works as a unit host at Michigan Medicine — suggested nursing. That idea just clicked for me.”
He took night classes to first get his associates and bachelor’s degrees, followed by a master’s degree in nursing: “I spent so many years taking classes, I felt like I became a lifelong scholar,” Sandefur said with a laugh.
Eventually, he joined Michigan Medicine on 6C where he progressed from a tech to a nurse and, eventually, to a nurse practitioner.
“I love being by the bedside, helping our patients through some of the most difficult times of their life,” Sandefur said. “And the organization has given me the opportunity to share that passion with others through my teaching. It’s really remarkable.”
Building a foundation
Sandefur began as a lecturer in the school of nursing in 2016, and now works with small groups of first-year nursing students as they gain exposure to the clinical setting.
He teaches them to work hands-on with patients, giving them a sense of what a nursing career would look like.
“On top of carrying out great medical care, I emphasize how important it is to give patients an experience where their needs are met as safely and quickly as possible,” Sandefur said. “That’s the foundation that every nursing student should build their career upon.”
Sandefur said the work isn’t always easy, as he spends much of his time grading assignments and creating lesson plans. But it is rewarding.
“I wouldn’t trade this job for anything,” Sandefur said. “I’ve seen students when they get started who are nervous and scared to meet with patients. But I walk them through each step and, in the end, they build up their confidence and want to learn more and more every week.”
As they progress through the course, students meet with Sandefur to discuss their goals and reflect on their experiences and what they’ve learned.
“I’m still early in my teaching career, but I’ve already seen students improve by leaps and bounds from where they began,” he said. “Eventually, I’m going to see some of my students return to Michigan Medicine as nurses. That’s going to be a strange — yet incredibly satisfying — feeling.”