Julia Brown was tired even after falling asleep at 7 p.m. the previous night. She had a few minutes to relax, but then she had to get ready by putting on her second uniform of the day.
After working a nine-hour clinical rotation on Oct. 10, Brown was back at the Cone Health Alamance Regional Medical Center in Burlington at 6:30 a.m. the following day for another 10.5-hour shift. As soon as she was done practicing her nursing skills and testing her knowledge with an experienced nurse at the hospital, Brown had to rush to UNC Greensboro’s campus.
The UNCG women’s soccer team was hosting Virginia Military Institute in an important Southern Conference game on Oct. 11. As a backup forward for the Spartans, Brown had only two hours in between the end of her clinical rotation and the opening kickoff against the Keydets.
“I think soccer is a good way to get my mind off of being so overstimulated with everything in the nursing program,” Brown said. “It’s actually good to do something different, I think.”
Brown, a junior from Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, is the only UNCG student-athlete who’s majoring in nursing. It’s a path that soccer coaches at other Division I schools discouraged her from pursuing as she was being recruited out of high school.
Brown has learned to juggle her coursework and clinicals during her first semester in UNCG’s bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) program with her commitments on the soccer team. Of course, there have been times this season when her heavy workload has gotten in the way and she had to miss a few games and practices as a result.
“She has given me her whole schedule for the entire semester, and I’ve plugged them all into my phone so I know which days she is not going to be there,” said Michael Coll, the UNCG women’s soccer head coach.
Brown admitted she had never heard of UNCG when Coll started recruiting her during her junior year at Phoenixville Area High School, located outside Philadelphia. She wanted to sign with a university that would allow her to both play soccer at the Division I level and pursue her dream of someday becoming a nurse.
Brown became interested in nursing as a teenager while watching her father recover from surgery to have both of his hips replaced. She said she spoke to coaches at four schools about possibly signing with them, but each coach gave her the same response when she mentioned her intention to major in nursing.
“They all told me I’d have to change my major,” Brown said. “But UNCG was the only school that told me that it was fine and they’d work with me, so that was awesome to hear. That’s why I chose this school.”
Coll already had experience coaching a nursing student at UNCG.
Chesney White recorded one of the best individual seasons in school history while working toward her BSN degree in 2014, scoring 15 goals and 37 points. She finished her collegiate career with 34 goals, the fifth-most all time by a Spartan.
Coll began recruiting Brown after watching her play for the first time at a tournament in Raleigh. He was struck by her toughness and physicality on the field, and she had “that sort of textbook image of what a college player has to be.”
“She likely is like every other recruit who’s interested in nursing at the college level. They all get the ‘no’ answer from pretty much every school,” Coll said. “There are only a handful of schools, and we’re one of them, where the answer is a strong ‘Yes, you can be a nurse at this school and be a student-athlete.’ I’ve worked at four separate universities, and this is the first where we can have nurses on our team.”
Brown wasn’t guaranteed a spot in the UNCG School of Nursing, though. She had to apply during her sophomore year and hope she had done enough during her first two years at UNCG to get accepted.
“It was pure fear. My parents were so against it,” Brown said of her decision to leave home and sign with the Spartans. “They said, ‘If you go two years and then you can’t get in, what are you going to do?’”
Brown was accepted into the School of Nursing last spring. She’s scheduled to earn her BSN degree in 2021, and she plans to attend graduate school to become a nurse practitioner.
Coll, meanwhile, might not be done making small accommodations for a soccer player majoring in nursing. Isabelle Blomdahl, a sophomore forward for the Spartans, has expressed interest in following Brown and applying to the BSN program this spring.
“I was determined to make it work,” Brown said. “And if it didn’t work out with soccer, I was mostly devoted to becoming a nurse anyway.”
Story by Alex Abrams, School of Nursing
Photography by Martin W. Kane, University Communications