Wagner-Connolly Named 40 Under 40 Nurse Leader Honoree

Just seven years ago, Amberly Wagner-Connolly was about five months in to her battle against stage 2 grade 3 invasive ductal carcinoma, a common type of breast cancer among women. Today, she can celebrate not only being cancer-free, but also being chosen as a 2016 Nebraska Action Coalition (NAC) 40 Under 40 Nurse Leader Honoree.

The 40 Under 40 Nurse Leader award is given out every other year and celebrates accomplished nurse leaders under the age of 40 who show expertise in their field, adherence to high ethical standards, and leadership within their profession, organization and community. Honorees are nominated by members of their organization, each one meeting the criteria established by NAC.

“I did not see it coming at all,” said Wagner-Connolly after learning about her nomination. “This award epitomizes not being afraid to lead the way and use your voice and the skills God gave you to make a difference in the world. I have worked so hard in my nursing career, and to know that others have taken notice of the things I am doing and the things I think are important makes me feel like a million dollars.”

Like many instructors, Wagner-Connolly’s career as a nurse is what inspired her to teach. Right after graduating from nursing school, she started as a full-time staff nurse working nights in the nurse residency program at Nebraska Medicine. “In nursing, it is common to see ‘nurses eating their young,’” she said. “I wanted to do just the opposite by helping others achieve their dreams and find their passions through kindness and positivity and being a good role model and mentor.”

In realizing her own dreams, Wagner-Connolly began working at Clarkson College in 2007 as an adjunct instructor for the office of Professional Development. Two years later, those dreams were put on hold when her breast cancer diagnosis prompted a double mastectomy, followed by six months of chemotherapy and one year of target therapy. Fortunately, the treatments were successful in blocking any further growth, and she was ready to forge ahead.

“I believe that attitude is everything, and positivity and kindness can take you very far in life,” she said amicably. “I am a perfect example of how if you follow your heart and true passions in life, it can all come together and work out.”

And follow her passions is precisely what Wagner-Connolly did. With hardly any hair on her head from the chemotherapy and surgery she underwent to combat her breast cancer, she interviewed for a full-time teaching position at the College in 2010. “I was so blessed that those in my interview—some of whom were my mentors and teachers—saw my potential and gave me a chance,” she said.

Since surviving breast cancer, Wagner-Connolly has also completed her master’s degree, given birth three times and adopted her niece (for a grand total of seven children) while finishing her doctorate degree. “If it was not for Clarkson College and the love and support I have received over the years, I would not be here today,” she said.

Over the course of her career at Clarkson College, Wagner-Connolly has taught a wide variety of courses across the Professional Development, LPN, BSN, Health Care Business, Health Care Services and MSN programs. She enjoys teaching everything from basic nursing and health assessment to women’s health and public health.

She claims that her “ticket to success” was knowing that she wanted to be a nurse at a very early age and setting that goal for herself. “The best decision that I ever made was walking through the doors of Clarkson College over 17 years ago,” she said. 

“I am at home here and have been mentored by some of the most amazing leaders,” she says emphatically. "I want others to see the sparkle and passion inside of me and be inspired to find their own calling to make a difference. I look forward to paying it forward for many, many years to come.”

Wagner-Connolly will attend the NAC Leadership Conference in Lincoln, Neb. on Sept. 16 to accept her 40 Under 40 Nurse Leader award.