Viterbo Has a New Doctor in the House: Jenny Hedrick-Erickson

Wednesday, January 17, 2024
Jenny Hedrick-Erickson at her desk at Viterbo University

On the first day of Viterbo’s 2023–24 spring semester, Jenny Hedrick-Erickson’s second full semester as the assistant dean of the College’s School of Nursing and Health, she pulls a large envelope from her desk and shows the contents to a visitor.

It’s a Viterbo diploma, but not the bachelor’s degree in nursing she earned in 1995. This one is a freshly signed Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree in the ethical leadership track, for which she was honored at the December commencement ceremony.

The ceremony in the Fine Arts Center theatre was powerful for her, with friends coming from as far away as Toronto, Canada, to witness

Jenny Hedrick-Erickson
Jenny Hedrick-Erickson is all smiles after the Viterbo December 2023 commencement ceremony at which she was honored for earning her Doctor of Nursing Practice degree. She also earned her bachelor's degree in nursing from Viterbo, graduating in 1995.

it. It’d be hard to top the emotional impact of Hedrick-Erickson’s 1995 graduation, though, when her Grandma Ruth took part in her pinning ceremony (photo at bottom of story).

“My grandmother was a nurse, and she was such an inspiration to me,” she said. “I owe my life’s path as a nurse and nursing educator to her influence.”

Hedrick-Erickson grew up in Norwalk , a Monroe County village too small to support its own high school. After graduating from Brookwood High School, she won a Dr. Scholl’s scholarship Viterbo’s Health Science Scholarship Competition and came to Viterbo to follow in her grandmother’s nursing footsteps.

She worked at Tomah Memorial Hospital for a few years after graduation before deciding she wanted to try a new challenge. She went back to school, earning her master’s degree in nursing education from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in May 2001.

During her graduate studies, she chose Viterbo as the site of her practicum, under the supervision of Wendy Wagner and Joan Keller-Maresh, whom she had known as an undergrad. “They were such good friends and mentors to me, and the practicum was a great experience,” she said.

Jenny Hedrick-Erickson in Viterbo University office
Jenny Hedrick-Erickson's office has a salute to her grandmother, who was a nurse and inspired her to follow in her footsteps into nursing.

In fall 2001, Hedrick-Erickson was back at Viterbo, now teaching in the Bachelor of Science in nursing degree completion (BSNC) program. Teaching practicing nurses and helping them earn bachelor’s degrees might not have been her first choice to begin with, but she fell in love with the program, which she went on to lead, passing the torch after becoming assistant dean.

She taught nurses from their early 20s to their early 70s, and the fun part was witnessing all the “a-ha moments” and seeing them take the lessons they learned and immediately employ them to provide improved care for their patients. “It was so great to be part of that with them,” she said.

Teaching in the BSNC program could be tough in the early days. Viterbo’s instructors fanned out all over the region to provide in-person classes. At one point, Hedrick-Erickson was traveling to Superior once a week to teach a full-day of in-person classes.

At its peak the BSNC program had 230 students, but over the years since the program went fully online in 2014 that has dwindled to 50 students because of the proliferation of online degree completion programs. “The competition is fierce,” she said.

Hedrick-Erickson had been wanting for years to earn a doctoral degree, and she took the plunge in 2020, starting in the educational leadership degree program at Alverno College before transferring to Viterbo’s DNP program.

“I gained so many new perspectives in the DNP program,” Hedrick-Erickson said. “My clinical immersion at the Tomah VA was an incredible experience. I was with the medical director there, seeing that leadership and how they operate, and it was amazing. They’re so mission focused. You can feel it throughout the whole operation.”

2022 Assisi Viterbo staff pilgrimage
Viterbo University’s 2022 Assisi pilgrimage for employees included, from left, Jenny Hedrick-Erickson, Naomi Stennes-Spidahl, Cari Mathwig Ramseier, Elyse Ramseier, and Melissa Growt.

Going into her last year in the DNP program, Hedrick-Erickson had another inspirational experience outside of her studies. In May 2022, she was chosen to participate in a Viterbo employee pilgrimage to Assisi, Italy, to walk in the footsteps of St. Francis and St. Clare. “I’d heard from so many peers what an incredible experience it was, and it really is. It’s hard to even find the words to describe it,” she said.

She was in Rome, just before a planned audience with the Pope, when she got the news of the birth of her second grandchild, a daughter born to her son, Taylor, and his wife. Hedrick-Erickson also has a stepdaughter, Chelsea, who lives in Los Angeles, and her youngest child, Elle, is a senior standout athlete at Sparta High School who wants to study sports management in college.

In her high school days, Hedrick-Erickson was a four-sport athlete (volleyball, gymnastics, softball, and track), and physical fitness remains a high priority for her. She and her husband, Dave, own and operate Fit for Life fitness centers in Sparta and Hillsboro (in addition to operating a caboose cabin they rent to people biking on the Elroy-Sparta State Trail).

Hedrick-Erickson has run 10 marathons, something she got started on thanks to encouragement from former Viterbo colleague Judy Casto. The last marathon she ran was in 2018, and while she doesn’t plan on running any more marathons, she continues to train for and run half marathons.

Spend some time with Hedrick-Erickson and you won’t be surprised that she’s run marathons. She exudes a sense of energy and determination. When she slips her DNP diploma back in the envelope and comments that she needs to get it framed, you just know it won’t be long before that diploma has a spot of honor on her office wall, perhaps next to the picture of Grandma Ruth.

Jenny Hedrick's 1995 nursing pinning ceremony
Jenny Hedrick-Erickson's 1995 nursing pinning ceremony included her Grandma Ruth, her 3-year-old son Taylor, and her parents, Ron and Peg Hedrick.