By Abby King ’19
Ben Friesen can be described in many ways: father, husband, potter, writer, miner, teacher, principal, factory worker, missionary, traveller, a man of faith, student and nurse.
But come May 28, Friesen will add one more title to his already extensive list: graduate of Goshen College’s master of science in nursing program.
Friesen will easily admit that he never expected to get his master’s degree — let alone his bachelor’s degree. As a member of the Conservative Mennonite Church, he only completed grade nine, like most within his community did.
At the age of 19, Friesen began working as a miner in his hometown of Vancouver, Canada, spending his days with explosives and large equipment.
From there, he traveled to Romania with his wife, Rosalee, where they planted churches and worked in orphanages.
While in Romania, Friesen and his wife adopted two children: Seth, now 21, and Carlee, now 20. A few years later, the family of four would adopt another daughter, this time from China. In 2008, Emesé joined the Friesens.
Once they returned to Canada, Friesen began work as a teacher and principal at a small Mennonite school in British Columbia.
After some time in Canada, the Friesen family decided to move closer to family and somewhere with more land. Rosalee, who grew up in Goshen, led the family back to her hometown, where they found a new home and community.
After all of these experiences and positions, Friesen still had an entire career and passion to discover. Friesen will admit that he had thought about returning to school but often dismissed it because of his age, having decided it was too late.
But in 2009, an opportunity to pursue higher education revealed itself. Friesen had just been laid off from Jayco, a recreational vehicle company, when he was offered a grant for displaced RV employees to return to school.
“That was the chance to jump at something,” he said. “I was pushed and I jumped in with both feet.”
From there, Friesen earned his associate’s degree in nursing at Ivy Tech and began working at Elkhart General Hospital (EGH). But while he was at EGH, he met several colleagues who highly recommended Goshen College’s RN to BSN program.
“It was kind of a no-brainer,” he said.
Within no time, Friesen was enrolled at Goshen College. He said that as the RN to BSN continued, the more he felt drawn to GC’s master’s of science in nursing program.
“It became clear that that’s what I should do,” he said. “It’s really kind of overwhelming to be here because very few from [my faith community] would do that.”
Faith and Occupation
Within his Conservative Mennonite community, Friesen said “things are changing.” Going to college is becoming a reality as some young Conservative Mennonites stray from pursuing family businesses and legacies. Friesen said that of those who go onto higher education, most pursue nursing.
“The themes of nursing fits our dynamic,” he said. “It’s been really well-accepted.”
Friesen said that he’s only received support from his community.
Ruth Stoltzfus, professor of nursing and director of graduate program in nursing, said that she sees Friesen as a “bridge.”
“He’s a conduit or a bridge between his religious community and the healthcare system,” she said.
Stoltzfus noted that Friesen’s role as a “bridge” or “translator” is “such an important piece” for communities which might not know how to best navigate the United State’s “complex healthcare delivery system.”
Frisen admitted that he does field many calls from his church community about medical issues. He sorts through the medical jargon to help inform sick and injured friends and family members, making sure they’re getting the best care possible.
Career Now and Later
Currently, while balancing clinicals, Friesen also works as a travel nurse, meaning he spends three nights of the week in another city, county or even state. Currently Friesen is licensed in four states as an intensive care nurse: Indiana, Ohio, Illinois and Wisconsin.
Since beginning as a travel nurse approximately two and a half years ago, Friesen has worked with several different communities with varying demographics. He attributes this, as well as Goshen College, to broadening his ability to empathize.
“What [Goshen College] gives is a holistic view,” Friesen said. “We cover a lot of culture and being empathetic and open-minded and I think that’s helped me in my travel nursing. I think I’ve gained a much greater awareness of what makes people tick.”
Friesen said that Goshen College gave him a broader understanding of human nature. He said he’s been able to better understand patients by evaluating them as people with more than an illness or injury. He likened his experience working with patients to an ocean.
“There are always currents that control the waves you see,” he said. “You see the chops on the top, but you don’t see the deep currents that are caused by environment, parents, upbringing or abuse. It’s difficult for me to judge by just what I see. I have to realize there’s much more going on. And I think Goshen has given me that in many respects.”
In the next six to seven weeks, Friesen will leave his job as a travel nurse and begin his career as a nurse practitioner hospitalist at Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center in Plymouth, Indiana. In this position, Friesen will manage in-patient care, along with another nurse practitioner and two doctors.
Friesen admits he’s excited but also quite nervous about his new position. Instead of fulfilling patient orders as a nurse, Friesen will now be in charge of creating orders and assessing patients.
“I know the first week or two is going to be kind of tough,” he said. “But I know I’m going to get through it.”
After taking several courses at Goshen College, Friesen said he feels prepared. And even if he does stumble, he knows GC has given him the tools and resources to find help and answers.
“Goshen College has an incredible program,” he said. “The nursing program is second to none.”
It’s been quite the journey to find what Friesen called his “true love.” Friesen attributed his success to his family and God.
“Ultimately, I have to give God the glory — and my family,” Friesen said. “[My family] has been so supportive. But then I think of all the prayers before clinicals and… how the doors have opened.”