Early in her career as an obstetrics nurse, Joan Justesen read a news article about a new neonatal intensive care unit in Minneapolis.
That’s the job I want, she thought.
She soon got her wish. Justesen was part of a team at St. Luke’s Hospital that opened the first NICU in the Fargo-Moorhead region.
“The field of neonatology wasn’t even around when I started nursing,” she says. “It was exciting to finally help those babies born prematurely or those who had multiple difficulties at birth.”
Over the next 43 years, Justesen built her career in healthcare – eventually serving as a senior executive at MeritCare Hospital, which is now Sanford Health.
Justesen earned her BSN in 1983 at what is now MSUM. While she enjoyed clinical nursing, she was interested in exploring a leadership role in the hospital. After she earned her BSN, she became the Director of the Children’s Hospital and Maternal Child Unit.
“That’s when I knew I wanted to go further, and to do that, I needed more education,” she says.
She immediately started taking evening classes as a prerequisite for the master of business administration program. She earned her MBA from MSUM in 1990.
Justesen chose MSUM for both of her degrees because of its reputation for stellar programs and the university’s willingness to work with non-traditional, part-time students. In addition, the atmosphere was encouraging and supportive.
“It wasn’t easy to work full-time, raise young kids, and go to school. I needed programs that would work with my schedule,” she says. “But it was worth the effort.”
Shortly after Justesen completed her MBA, she became vice president of clinical services at St. Luke’s. Then the organization merged and became MeritCare – a place where she spent the next decade working as a senior executive for clinical services. In that role, she worked on the team that established the region’s first palliative care unit.
Justesen’s interest in nursing started at age nine when she watched her mother and grandmother care for her grandfather who had suffered a stroke. But a nursing background presents numerous opportunities from clinical care to public education to leadership, she says.
That’s one reason she and her late husband established a scholarship for MSUM nursing students and why she supports the next generation of nurses.
“Nursing is a great profession and the demand has increased tremendously,” she says. “MSUM offers so many opportunities for nurses to advance.”
After leaving MeritCare, Justesen chaired MSUM’s Foundation board and later worked as vice president of the Alumni Foundation and marketing. Her nursing and leadership experiences contributed to her success in these university roles.
“At their essence, many careers are about building relationships and listening to someone’s passions. That’s something you practice as a nurse,” she says.
Today, Justesen is mostly retired. However, she keeps busy as a volunteer in Bethany Homes’ long-term care unit. She also is part of the Fargo Fine Arts Club and serves on the board of the FM Kicks Band. She’ll soon be joining the board at the Plains Art Museum.
“You have to keep your brain and body busy,” she says.
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