Hannah Bormann was diagnosed with a brain tumor at 14. As a patient at University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital, not only did she have surgery that successfully removed the malignancy, she was inspired to pursue a career in health care.

“If you can’t find the sunshine, be the sunshine.”

These are words that Hannah Bormann lives by. When she faced the darkest, scariest time of her life—a brain cancer diagnosis during her first year in high school—she found bright spots amid the care she received at University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital, especially from the nursing staff. Every time they entered her room, their cheerful dispositions calmed her.

“Everyone was so positive and went out of their way to make me comfortable,” says Bormann, who had two surgeries to diagnose and remove the tumor in 2015. “They always had a smile on their faces, and that makes a huge difference—it impacts your mood. They also made sure my family was comfortable and gave us updates all the time. I could tell how much they cared about us. Even now, when I return for checkups, the doctors and nurses make me feel like I’m not just a patient to them. I am family.”

Now Bormann is ready to be the sunshine in someone else’s life. She says her experience as a patient inspired her to become a nurse, and in May 2020 she completed a nursing program at Kirkwood Community College. In August, the Preston, Iowa, native starts a job in the postpartum/gynecology unit at UI Hospitals & Clinics.

Bormann says she is excited to return as a registered nurse to the hospital that gave her such great care.

“I hope to have that same positive impact on my patients,” says Bormann, who aims to work with pediatric cancer patients. “I want to be there for them holistically, not just giving medications but also supporting them physically and mentally. Like my nurses at Iowa did for me.”

As of February 2020, Bormann is five years cancer free. She marked the anniversary by designing and selling T-shirts for what she dubbed the Sunshine Project and donated the proceeds to the hospital. She hoped to raise $400. She ended up making more than $6,000.

“I felt like I needed to give back to the hospital, and to the kids experiencing the same things I did, but I wanted to be creative about it and not just ask for money,” says Bormann, who had been active in high school sports and philanthropies. “When I launched the fundraiser, I worried that I wouldn’t meet the minimum order to pay for the shirts. Instead, it was crazy to see the response. Athletes in the NFL and NBA bought shirts and shared it on social media.”

Jody Kurtt, director of nursing and patient care services at UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital, says Bormann’s positive experience with the nursing staff is not uncommon. Hospital leaders often receive written feedback from patients and families express their appreciation for the care they received. Some patients go on to pursue health care careers in areas like nursing, medicine, social work, and child-life specialist.

“Nurses and other health care professionals develop close relationships with their patients and families, especially when they care for patients over a long period of time or during extremely difficult circumstances, like Hannah experienced when fighting cancer. Not only do nurses deliver important clinical care, they provide critical emotional support to patients and their family members,” Kurtt says. “Nurses and patients often experience a lot together, which strengthens their connection.”

In fact, Iowa nursing staff is recognized for excellence nationally and internationally for its evidence-based nursing practice, and in recent years the American Association of Critical Care Nurses has bestowed its Gold Beacon Award for Excellence upon two Stead Family Children’s Hospital units: the neonatal intensive care unit in 2018, and the pediatric intensive care unit in 2020.

“Our nurses in the children’s hospital and across UI Health Care are committed to excellence in all aspects of their practice and patient care,” Kurtt says.

Bormann says being treated for cancer taught her several lessons, ones that will inform her work as a nurse.

“Going through that experience—when even mundane things like talking a walk or going to the bathroom were challenging—really put things in perspective. It’s made me a better person,” she says. “You never know what people might be going through. There were a lot of things that I didn’t tell people at the time. So be the positive person. Be the sunshine.”