From punter to patient care: former footballer knee-deep in nursing program

Jimmy Howell Contact: Christine Phelan Kueter: 434-982-3312

(8-2-2012) Football chose Jimmy Howell, U.Va.’s nationally ranked punter, because of his love for the sport, athletic prowess and stature. But it was Howell – who graduated from U.Va.'s College of Arts and Sciences last spring with a degree in psychology – who very purposefully chose nursing.

“Nursing is my first choice,” says Howell (at left, CNL ’14), who’s currently in the midst of his labor and delivery rotation. “It’s what I really want and love to do.”

The son of a nurse and a perfusionist -- a member of a cardiac surgical team -- Howell grew up in Florence, SC, the elder of two boys. After beginning his athletic career playing junior varsity soccer in middle school and excelling in football throughout high school, Howell came to U.Va. on a football scholarship in 2008.

A punter, kicker and quarterback since adolescence, Howell was a four year starter at punter for the Cavaliers and last year was listed as a preseason candidate for the nation's top punting award. After wrapping up his collegiate career, Howell was geared up for the National Football League draft but believes now that “God had other plans” for him.

“I did the whole progression toward the NFL, going to the camps, pro days, going to the all-star games, and though some teams showed interest, I didn’t get drafted,” said Howell. “I was disappointed, sure, but my mentor (George Morris, UVa football team’s chaplain) said something to me."

‘When you’re on the football field, you impact people’s entertainment for two hours,’ he said.  ‘When you’re a nurse, you impact them for life.’ That’ll always ring in my ears. As soon as I heard that, it was decided.”
Jimmy Howell, UVa footballer, CNL student
Even as he sought a pro-football career, Howell had won entry into U.Va. School of Nursing’s Clinical Nurse Leader program last spring – a two-year program is for those who come to the field with at least a bachelor’s degree from another background -- and became the first football player to enroll in the School of Nursing. He hasn’t looked back since.

These days, Howell’s learning the intricacies of the obstetric rotation, getting used to scrubs, sensible shoes and the feeling of a stethoscope slung about his neck. That’s despite a few hindrances he encounters related to his size – being six foot six, and 240 pounds -- and in the thick of a female-dominated profession.

“I’ve had a little bit of difficulty feeling comfortable being able to do some procedures, especially if it’s a female patient, doing the things a woman might be able to do (more easily) – a breast exam, a cervical exam, that kind of thing,” he says. “And being a bigger person, I don’t want to impose on anyone.”

Still, he is finally feeling at home in his chosen profession.

“It’s absolutely a good fit,” says Howell. “What’s that poem? ‘The Road Less Traveled’? I don’t have to impact the whole world, though that’s my goal. Ultimately it’s my patients who’ll decide if I make a difference. Helping people is just what I want to do.

“And maybe the next football player, the next basketball player, will have an easier time because of me,” he adds. “I know I have a lot to offer.”