Building a Nursing Career - With a Little Help

After earning an associate degree in nursing in May 2015, Forrest Yoder began thinking about pursuing a more advanced Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree—but it wasn't an easy decision to make. Hired in July 2015 as a “float nurse” to cover various departments at Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital, Yoder and his wife, Rachel, had already started raising a family. He wasn't sure how to pay for—or find the time for—further college education.

“I knew I had to get a bachelor's degree at some point,” says Yoder, 36, who earned his associate degree from Southside Virginia Community College. “The way the field is heading, I knew that if I wanted to perform at the top of my profession, getting that additional education was going to be critical.” 

Through a colleague, Yoder learned about the generous scholarships offered by the Haden Nursing Institute at Sentara Martha Jefferson. These awards cover up to 90 percent of the cost of earning a BSN degree, including tuition, fees and books. 

Established thanks to generous donors throughout the community, the Haden Institute and its nursing scholarships support Sentara Martha Jefferson’s strategic goal of having BSNs at the bedside by 2020. Studies show that when nurses attain advanced education, patient outcomes are improved and patient mortality rates decrease. 

By the time Yoder enrolled in the online RN to BSN Program at the University of Phoenix in spring 2017, his daughters, Ellie and Charlotte Kate, were both under age 2—so it seemed like a challenging time to start an intensive academic program. However, this particular program was ideal because it offered flexible scheduling that allowed him to continue working full time. Fourteen months later, Yoder finished the program, earning his BSN degree in August 2018.

“The scholarship was such a blessing for me and my family,” he says. “It gave me the freedom to balance my studies, my full-time job and my family responsibilities. I didn’t have to worry about how in the world I was going to pay for my education.”

Nursing is actually a second career for Yoder. Before joining the team at Sentara Martha Jefferson, he was a foreman for 10 years at his father’s construction company, Yoder Construction. As a certified Class A Contractor, Master Licensed Plumber and Master Licensed Electrician, Yoder was able to apply his certifications toward some of his course requirements with the University of Phoenix, which helped shorten the time needed to complete his degree.

Yoder and his family currently live in their “dream home,” which he built on farmland in Buckingham County. He sings with a gospel quartet and also is a part-time pastor at Oak Hill Mennonite Church. The Yoders recently expanded their family with the addition of baby Hank, born in July 2019. He is grateful for the support the Martha Jefferson Hospital Foundation has provided for his nursing career.

“The scholarship has definitely been a blessing, in large part because it has enabled me to do what I love to do,” he says. “Going from a construction career into nursing was a huge switch for me, but I feel like I have found my calling. The scholarship played a significant part in my career—without that support, it would have been really difficult to raise our young children and provide for them while pursuing a bachelor's degree. Being able to advance my education and not worry about financial constraints was a big relief. I truly appreciate all that the Martha Jefferson Hospital Foundation and the Haden Nursing Institute have done for me.”


The Haden Institute for Nursing Excellence and Innovation was established in 2013 in support of our vision of nursing leadership, superior clinical outcomes, and exemplary patient care. Evidence demonstrating the relationship between advanced education and improved patient outcomes and reduced patient mortality is clear. Since establishing the Haden Nursing Institute in honor of Jim Haden (President and CEO of Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital 1993 - 2014), more than 183 nurses have received scholarships enabling them to return to school and earn a four-year college degree. Our goal is for at least 80% of all Sentara Martha Jefferson registered nurses to have baccalaureate level education. 

These scholarships are made possible with the generous philanthropic support of our community. Please consider a gift to the Martha Jefferson Foundation to make more opportunities like this possible.

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