Having performed on stage in Texas since the age of 6, Jennifer Stone made the move to Los Angeles when she was only 9. By 13, she began portraying Harper Finkle on Disney Channel’s “Wizards of Waverly Place,” a character she played for half a decade. Shortly thereafter, she received some alarming health news.
“I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, which inspired me to take a break from acting for a couple of years to get my nursing degree,” Stone said. “I started work as an ER nurse in April 2020, and have been balancing acting and nursing ever since.”
Taking the leap
For Stone, pursuing a medical career wasn’t an overnight decision.
“I didn’t have the most positive healthcare experience during the four years it took me to get a definitive diagnosis and treatment plan,” she said. “I felt like a lot of the healthcare professionals I interacted with didn’t believe what I was saying, because I didn’t fit the typical Type 1 model.
“I wanted to go into healthcare so I could better understand my body and how to take care of myself. I also wanted to make sure no one I encountered felt like they weren’t being seen and cared for when they needed it most.”
Stone even discovered a connection between her two professions.
“With acting, you are required to exercise empathy with every character you play,” she said. “With nursing, you are required to practice empathy with every patient you treat. Empathy is the biggest link between the two, and acting and nursing don’t work without it.”
For Stone, the past year has admittedly been full of unexpected experiences.
“In nursing school, you learn a certain set of skills, and then you really learn everything once you start your first job,” she said. “Add the pandemic to it and that’s something no nurse, regardless of experience, could prepare for.
“I learned about human resilience and stubbornness, and how much human connection is an inevitable part of nursing that you don’t teach. No matter how much you may try to protect yourself or avoid it, there will always be patients or cases that get to you. Nursing school teaches you a skill set. Nursing in the field and during a pandemic teaches you about human beings and yourself.”
With the ongoing global pandemic, Stone believes certain precautions will always be in place, such as wearing masks.
“I also think nurses will fight for safer environments, like how they’re fighting for safer nurse-to-patient ratios now, because a lot of safety concerns were compromised due to the novelty of COVID-19, and trying to figure it out across the nation as it was unfolding.”
Despite spending her days in scrubs, Stone still attracts plenty of fans.
“It never stops being weird for me, because I separate my nursing life and my acting life,” she said. “I’ve been in full PPE with a mask, goggles and a surgical cap, and they still recognize me by my voice. It’s always very sweet, but definitely odd when someone says they enjoyed your work, and then you have to ask them about their last bowel movement.”
Chosen for the Olay “Face Anything” campaign that encourages young women to celebrate their natural beauty while exploring interests in STEM fields, Stone has advice for the next generation of students considering a career in nursing:“Take it one class, one shift, and one test at a time,” she said. “Nursing school can be very overwhelming. Learn to expect the unexpected. I had a certain idea of what nursing would be and then COVID-19 happened. With nursing, you never know what it will bring, so it’s important to be ready for anything, and to remember why you got into it in the first place.”