National Nurses Week Spotlight: SDSU student's experience with cancer inspires new career path

Jonathan Eppert has much to celebrate during National Nurses Week: being alive, an SDSU nursing student and the future of nursing itself.

Monday, May 6, 2024
Three images showing Johnathan Eppert playing guitar, playing with his dog and in a classroom
SDSU nursing student Jonathan Eppert during and after cancer treatment (Courtesy photos by Eppert)

Jonathan Eppert dreamed of becoming a doctor since elementary school. He excelled in science classes and attended a summer medical academy at Rady Children’s Hospital just before his junior year in high school. Coincidentally, at the camp, he noticed a lump in his neck that would change everything he had wanted. 

“Little did I know when I was touring the hospital that summer, I had a little bump growing in my neck, and I would soon be back at Rady’s as a patient,” said Eppert, now a second-year nursing student at San Diego State University. 

“I felt completely normal and thought it was just a cyst. But it didn’t go away, and it just kept getting bigger,” he added, “I was 16 when I found out the lump was cancer. 

Eppert was diagnosed with Stage II Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a type of cancer that affects a person’s lymphatic tissue, which is part of the body’s immune system. If caught and treated early, as in his case, it’s nearly 100% curable. 

“It was a very scary time for me, but I got off relatively easy since I caught it so early.  I was treated with heavy doses of chemotherapy, which meant I could not attend school in person for a year.  But, I still learned a lot during that time,” he said. 

His experience as a cancer patient profoundly changed his perspective on his future in medicine.  

"I'd always wanted to be in medicine to connect with people and to end each day feeling like I made a genuine impact in someone's life,” he explained. “So after getting an inside look from the patient’s point of view and experiencing the day-to-day skills and holistic approach from nurses, I realized that nursing is a much better fit for me.”  

After successfully finishing his treatment, Eppert got accepted to the SDSU Nursing Program in 2022 and is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in nursing, focusing on pediatric oncology.

Despite a busy finals schedule, he said he expresses gratitude to the nurses who cared for him ― especially during National Nurses Week. 

Each year, from May 6-12, the American Nurses Association honors and celebrates the more than five million nurses nationwide during National Nurses Week. This year’s theme is “Nurses Make the Difference.” 

“As we celebrate Nurses Week, we are so proud of our SDSU Nursing students and alumni who are making a significant impact on the health of our communities in San Diego and Imperial Valley,” said Karen Macauley, director of SDSU’s School of Nursing. “We celebrate these unsung heroes who transform compassion into action and exemplify the art and science of the nursing profession.” 

SDSU, including SDSU Imperial Valley, graduates about 150 Bachelor of Science in Nursing students each year, with a remarkable 96% first-time pass rate of the NCLEX, the national exam all nursing students must pass to become licensed registered nurses in the United States. 

Eppert is on track to graduate and take the exam in 2026.  

“After I graduate, I want to work at Rady’s so that I can give the next generation of patients the same quality of care that the nurses gave to me while also being able to genuinely empathize with my patients since I kind of know what they're going through,” said Eppert. 

With a bit of optimism, he added, “Nursing is cool. Besides making a real difference every single day, it’s sustainable.  I don’t see compassionate nurses ever being replaced by robots.”

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