Alumni on the Frontline

From fighting COVID-19 on the frontlines to caring for some of the most vulnerable populations, Wilbraham & Monson Academy alumni nurses are doing it all with heart.

WMA extends our gratitude to all of our alumni on the frontline of COVID-19, and we are pleased to highlight our alumni nurses in honor of National Nurses Week. Read on to hear inspirational stories from alumni of various backgrounds, in their own words, on "Why I Chose Nursing."


Brett Zalkan ’83

RN, King County Public Health - Seattle, Washington

“Back in my first go-around with grad school, I used to take my mind on vacations by reading books about epidemics, emerging diseases and public health. I'd often imagine myself turning in my sedate and sedentary life as an academic for the life of an intrepid agent in pursuit of disease clusters and in defense of vulnerable people under attack by unrelenting microbes. After a deep sigh, I put those thoughts aside and got back to my dissertation. A career in technology followed, in which I ground my fingers to the nether phalanges to make, proportionally, a few more pennies for people already swimming in billions. Emotional returns diminished. I chose to pursue nursing because I thought it a way to pursue both my dreams and live my values. A few years later, I find myself in the frontline columns battling an epidemic, working to keep some of our most vulnerable citizens alive. For the first time in my life, I feel no ambivalence whatsoever about what I'm doing for work. In nursing, I find outlets for all of my passions: pursuit of what the kids now call social justice; the intellectual challenge of puzzling out patient needs and figuring out how to meet them; and something I'd never really made part of my life - work with my hands. I have a plan for the next 30 years: 10 years working in nursing, 10 years as a teacher of nursing, and 10 years with my butt planted firmly on a beach in Mexico. I think that will generate a better epitaph than "he was a miserable old sot who made very rich people a wee bit richer”."

Kirsten (Peterson) Falteisek ’95

PICU Nurse, Phoenix Children’s Hospital - Phoenix, Arizona

“Biology is my love, nursing is my passion. Although my path began with a degree in biology and criminal justice, nursing has given me the career I didn’t know I needed all along. Perhaps having a mother as a nurse influenced not only my decision to enter the field, but also my brother Eric’s (WMA ’99). Regardless, I am thrilled to have found my purpose in life to give away. My focus from the beginning has been the pediatric population where their innocence and resilience are both admirable and inspiring. This is especially the case in the pediatric intensive care unit that I consider my second home in Phoenix, Arizona. Although a challenging work environment in many ways, the reason I became a nurse is incorporated into the care provided every day. We stand side-by-side with parents and families as cheerleaders, hold them as they cry, and provide empathy and compassion into everything we do. It is this fact that makes me so proud of being a nurse, particularly in these unprecedented times that we are currently going through together.”

Hannah Clewes ’15

Emergency Room RN, Mercy Medical Center - Springfield, Massachusetts

“This is my first Nurses Week as a registered nurse, a title that I so desperately wanted to achieve ever since I was a kid. It has been a whirlwind since being pinned as a nurse, starting my career in the Emergency Department and taking on COVID-19 as a new graduate. I have been learning from some of the strongest veteran nurses since the day I stepped onto the ER floor. It is easy to get caught up in the busy tasks of nursing and start to feel like you are going through the moves just to keep people alive and healthy. Usually when this starts to happen you are presented with a situation that reminds you of your “why.” It’s amazing what a hand hold, some wise life advice and a smile from a 99-year-old woman can do! I find it an honor that people trust me with the care of their loved ones, especially when they are unable to be at the bedside to witness it. Working with an incredibly strong team of nurses, doctors and techs at a time like this reminds me constantly, everyday, exactly why I am proud to be a nurse.”

John “Jack” Wilson ’19

Nursing Student, University of Massachusetts - Amherst

“I chose nursing because I wanted to be able to positively impact people's lives on a daily basis. I want a career where I can care for someone on the worst days of their lives, and positively impact their experience in any way I can whether that is providing quality care, being a calming voice to talk to or a hand to hold. I became an EMT and am attending nursing school because I knew that if I worked hard, I might one day be able to provide and care for my community in the way that nurses care for us 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and 365 days a year.”

Kayla Caine Richards ’09

CRNA (Nurse Anesthetist) Candidate - Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.

“Growing up, I admired my grandmother's decades of dedicated work as a nurse in a variety of settings. When it became time for me to forge my own career path, I was drawn to the way the field of nursing intricately integrates science and heart. After college, I began my career as a pediatric nurse and soon found my home in the neonatal intensive care unit at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and Children's National Medical Center. I loved my time caring for these uniquely complex and vulnerable patients while also providing care, comfort and education for their families. These critically ill infants and children require a deep understanding of the science of their physiology, disease processes and pharmacology; but providing care for them requires a whole lot of heart. As a nurse, you are there for your patients (and their families) on the very best or the very worst days of their lives, and you are their source of comfort and support through it all. I especially took pride advocating for my patients, too young and too sick to speak for themselves - and still do today with my patients in the operating room. In my opinion, one of the best parts of being a nurse is that your impact and your possibilities are endless. I have been lucky enough to use my experience as an ICU nurse to expand my nursing career and am completing my Doctor of Nurse Anesthesia Practice program at Georgetown University this spring. Now, as a (soon-to-be) Nurse Anesthetist, I rely on that same intricate integration of science and heart that so impressed me originally to keep my patients safe and comfortable.”

Eric Peterson ’99

Critical Care Nurse, Lowell General Hospital - Lowell, Massachusetts

“I have been a critical care nurse for 14 years. I graduated from Pima Community College in Tucson, Arizona, in 2006. I began my quest to become a nurse because of the work and accomplishments of my mother, Christine, who was a nurse at WMA. My siblings and I grew up hearing all about her amazing stories working in an emergency room. Most people would probably grimace at some of those stories, but for some reason I didn’t. It excited me! I wanted to hear more. It never came to me that nursing was what I was meant to do until my mother was working as a Hospice Nurse in Arizona. The compassion my mother showed to her patients and their families during the worst time in their lives was just amazing to me. It pulled at my heart strings and pointed me in the direction of nursing. I wanted to help others and nursing was the way I was going to accomplish this.”