The Marvelous Judy Jenks
NURSE EDUCATOR BRANCHES OUT FROM RADFORD ROOTS
By Mark Lambert, M.S. '97
Judy Jenks ’95, M.S.N. ’02, D.N.P. ’16, FNP-BC ’21, and her family have deep roots as Highlanders at Radford University.
A native of Radford, Jenks earned four of her eight college degrees and certificates at Radford University. Those include a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (B.S.N.) in 1995, a Master of Science in Nursing (M.S.N.) in 2002 and a Doctor of Nursing Practice (D.N.P.) in 2016, as well as her latest, a post-graduate certificate in Appalachian Studies, awarded in 2021.
In addition, her two sons, Craig and Clay Branscom, followed in her footsteps and graduated cum laude from Radford on the same day in 2018.
“With six degrees from Radford University in my immediate family, the university should name a building after me — presumably the Bursar’s Office,” Jenks laughs. “All joking aside, though, Radford University has been very good to me and my family.”
Jenks says the education and experience she gained at Radford have been a vital part of her stellar 35-year career as a healthcare professional, educator, community volunteer and business owner. Her story, though, begins with a volunteer assignment at a local hospital.
At 16, Jenks was working in a factory after high school every day, but she wanted more. In 10th grade, she began volunteering as a candy striper at Radford Hospital and decided on a career in nursing. She received her associate degree in 1986 and began working in a critical care unit.
Jenks’ sons were born while she was pursuing her bachelor’s degree, and the prospect of helping her family by means of a stable and lucrative career in healthcare helped spur her to excel. As a multitasking mother, she brought both boys with her to class in baby carriers.
She finished her bachelor’s degree in 1995 but would return to Radford four years later for a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree with a nurse practitioner concentration. Her boys, who were then 5 and 6 years old, visited campus for picnics and play time.
“They were wide-eyed and excited,” Jenks remembers. “As Clay ran across Moffett Lawn at full speed, Craig grabbed my hand and said, ‘Momma, one day I’m going to teach here.’ So, Radford has always played a large part in the life of my family.”
EDUCATOR AND ENTREPRENEUR
After a few years as a nurse practitioner (NP), she felt the call to return to school again, returning to Radford for a D.N.P. degree. During that time, she also founded a thriving business that would also allow her to continue caring for patients.
“My area of study in the D.N.P. program was nurse executive leadership and administration,” Jenks recalled. “I worked with my advisor to write a business plan as one of my projects, and it ended up becoming my company, The Jenks Initiative LLC.” Jenks works through her company as an NP independent contractor, negotiating her own contracts with area providers. She also founded a second business called Clinic420 LLC, which is the first nurse practitioner-owned medical cannabis clinic in Southwest Virginia and the second in the state.
Jenks finished her D.N.P. in 2016 and began teaching at Jefferson College of Health Sciences (JCHS) in Roanoke. As JCHS merged into Radford University Carilion just three years later, Jenks became a Highlander once again. Today, she is an assistant professor of nursing at RUC.
As if being an active nurse practitioner, teaching and running two businesses weren’t enough, Jenks also volunteers at healthcare clinics in the region and across the country, providing care to underserved populations.
“I am an advocate for rural health and, in particular, access to healthcare for our most vulnerable populations,” Jenks says.
Jenks works closely with RAMUSA, which organizes Remote Area Medical (RAM) pop-up clinics. She also participated in a clinic in Puerto Rico shortly after Hurricane Maria. She provided healthcare at South Dakota’s Rosebud Indian Reservation. She remembers that as the only female practitioner on site, she was asked to provide women’s health services, working in a dentist’s office with a dentist’s chair as the exam table.
“The stories these women confided to me were incredible, and I felt honored that they trusted me enough to talk,” Jenks recalled. “We were invited to participate in a sweat lodge at the home of a family that was grateful for the services being offered. It was one of the most incredible and spiritual experiences I have ever had.”
Jenks normally takes some of her NP students with her to work the clinics, seeing patients in spaces like horse stalls in barns or makeshift exam rooms in elementary schools or airport hangers.
“Most of our NP students have little experience in underserved areas, and I try to introduce this to them in the classroom and in trips that give them the opportunity to work with this population of patients,” Jenks said.
Over the last year, Jenks has received a lot of attention for all that she does.
In March 2021, Jenks received the Education Award from the Virginia Council of Nurse Practitioners (VCNP). Jenks said the award validates the effort she puts into educating NP students: “It is vital that they understand that every patient is unique and brings their own set of needs,” she said.
In August, at the university’s annual convocation ceremony, Jenks was recognized by Radford as the 2021 recipient of the Founders Award. The award was created by Douglas Covington, who served as Radford University’s fifth president from 1995 to 2005, on the premise that education opens the doors to opportunity.
“Personally, it is the most profound award I have won in my career,” Jenks says. “It was so unexpected, and there are so many deserving faculty on the main campus and at RUC that I can’t imagine how I was chosen for this. Reliving the moment makes me smile and shake my head at the same time.”