As part of Founders’ Day celebrations, St. Mary’s announced the first recipient of the Young Alumna Award, Chandler Roberts Cummins ’12. The award recognizes an individual who graduated in the last 15 years and has attained distinguished achievements in a professional or volunteer capacity. The award was established in honor of the Sisters of St. Mary, young women who selflessly served St. Mary’s and the city of Memphis through the Yellow Fever epidemic.
For the last seven years, Chandler Roberts Cummins ’12 has dedicated her career to being a comforting presence to patients while providing the highest level of care. As a nurse, Cummins knows that patients are often in their most vulnerable state during a hospital stay or doctor’s visit and are in need of extraordinary empathy and compassion.
Her approach to patient care is heavily influenced by her time at St. Mary’s, where she learned the importance of respect, responsibility, thankfulness, kindness, self-control, honesty, courage, and cooperation—the eight characteristics that comprise the Bridge to Caring. As a St. Mary’s lifer, the Bridge to Caring is deeply ingrained in Cummins.
“I still live and breathe it,” she said of St. Mary’s signature character education program. “I use it every single day. I use it every day at work with my patients and my coworkers. I use it in my own relationships outside of work.”
Cummins is a nurse practitioner at Sutherland Cardiology in Memphis. After attending college and working in Texas, she recently returned home and is thrilled to be back near the place that has meant so much to her past and future. “The teachers and the people who work there make St. Mary’s what it is,” said Cummins. “Everyone encourages you to find yourself and see how you fit into this world.”
Within the walls of St. Mary’s, Cummins developed a strong sense of self, which she relied on when deciding where to go to college. She knew she was interested in attending Texas Christian University (TCU) in Fort Worth but had to select a specific college to apply to within the university. Motivated by her desire to help others, Cummins took a chance and applied to the TCU School of Nursing. A decision that she says changed her life.
Not only did Cummins meet her now husband, Sam, as a student at TCU—she also found her calling in the field of nursing. She earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing in 2016 before beginning a nursing residency program at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital, where she spent the last several years as a nurse in the intensive care unit (ICU).
“I’ve learned that nursing is so much more than helping people. It’s about the deep relationships you develop with your patients. In the ICU, I took care of one or two patients on a 12-hour shift, working multiple days in a row. I learned about their life and families and built a unique relationship with them,” said Cummins.
"As a provider, the best thing I can do for them is to listen to them. Listen to their concerns and thoughts and find out what I can do to best serve them and help them reach their goals.”
These lessons proved crucial in 2020 when health care systems worldwide faced the immense challenges brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. The ICU where Cummins worked was no exception, as she and the staff worked through the isolation, uncertainty, and heartbreaks of treating patients with an illness they had not yet seen.
“It was really tough,” Cummins recalled. “In the beginning, there was so much fear because we didn't know what it was,” she said. “I still think about the patients I saw during that time and the family members I talked to. I think about my coworkers and all the different health care workers across the world who were in the middle of it.”
Yet, Cummins remained steadfast in her dedication to her patients’ care.
“When patients are lying in a hospital or sitting in an exam room, I understand the scary and vulnerable position that they are in. It is really important for me to make them feel as comfortable as possible.”
When reflecting on the experience, Cummins most appreciates how the health care community came together to fight for their patients.
“I try not to dwell on the darkest moments of it and instead think about the moments when we saw success. I remember the joy we felt as a health care team when that happened and how we held on to those special moments.”
In December 2020, Cummins and her coworkers experienced one of those special moments when the COVID-19 vaccine arrived at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital, and Cummins became the first recipient of the vaccine in Tarrant County, Texas.
At a time when her work became more demanding and taxing, Cummins’ determination prevailed as she simultaneously worked to earn a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree at TCU. She began the program in June 2020 and graduated in May 2023.
As Cummins begins a new phase of her career as a nurse practitioner at a cardiology clinic, she admits that she will miss several aspects of her life in the ICU.
“You spend days and weeks caring for and supporting patients who are so sick. One of the neat things is when they return months later, and you barely recognize them because they look so good. I love seeing that and knowing I had a part in their recovery. It’s such a rewarding profession.”
However, she is embracing her new role at the cardiology clinic.
“I‘m excited to be on this side of patient care and to help prevent them from having to see someone like me in the ICU,” she said.