Photo courtesy Dani McIlwain
Growing up, Dani McIlwain played multiple sports, including soccer, basketball and tennis. Throughout her athletic career, she underwent three knee surgeries. These experiences inspired McIlwain to pursue a career in the medical field, with plans to begin her studies in Mississippi College's accelerated bachelor of science in nursing program come January 2021.
McIlwain credits her parents for developing her drive when it comes to accomplishing her goals. After graduating high school, she attended Liberty University in Virginia, where she earned a bachelor's degree in exercise science in December 2018. Five months later, she married her husband, Jacob, and moved to Brandon.
In February of this year, McIlwain took a job as a physician scheduler with University Physicians in the University of Mississippi Medical Center, and she has used her time in the position to prepare for nursing school. "I needed to work while Jacob was finishing physical therapy school, and I knew I wanted to pursue a career in nursing," McIlwain says.
Barely a month into her new job, the COVID-19 pandemic struck Mississippi.
"It was a little chaotic there for a while," she recalls, noting that patients made appointments over the phone and were spread thin among a shrinking group of physicians.
While many Mississippians adapted to working from home following the onset of the pandemic, McIlwain joined her coworkers to staff the front lines at the clinic, barring the brief period that McIlwain herself had to quarantine at home when she contracted the coronavirus, which she overcame relatively unscathed. At one point, McIlwain managed the calendars of 18 doctors by herself.
Her dedication to always perform to the best of her ability has kept her going throughout this challenging year. "I'm pretty self-motivated and a perfectionist," the 25-year-old says.
"(On the soccer field), it's on you to go out and do your best and play your best," McIlwain says, and she strives to apply that same philosophy to both her current job and to nursing.
"I love helping people, and I love the one-on-one contact you can have with nursing."
As a nurse, McIlwain plans to emphasize the relationship aspect of the profession, taking the treatment of a patient beyond the scope of a checklist.
"I feel like sometimes, especially when people can't have their family there, they need that relationship. They need to know they are cared for and they matter," she says.