Laura Nickerson Named Director of Health and Wellness Services
Mercersburg Academy welcomes Dr. Laura Nickerson as the school’s new director of health and wellness services. Nickerson brings an impressive range of relevant experience to her position, including work as the director of health services at Gould Academy (a boarding school in Maine) and as a registered nurse at Maine Medical Center, the largest hospital in northern New England. She holds a doctorate of nursing practice and a master of science in nursing.
“Our clear focus this year will be assisting in safely navigating the COVID-19 pandemic in a residential environment,” Nickerson says. “I have really enjoyed my time working in residential schools and camps. Working with teenagers never ceases to make me laugh and challenge me.”
Nickerson will work in tandem with Rutherford Health and Wellness Center Director Rita Barone over the next year to lead and manage the school’s health and wellness center, which includes a team of 12. Barone has announced her retirement effective at the close of the 2020-2021 academic year, when she will have completed 28 years of service to the school.
A native of Canada, Nickerson has worked in nursing, teaching, and health-care administration, with stops in two places not far from Mercersburg (Winchester, VA, and Lancaster, PA), as well as in Mississippi and Maine.
“While it may be a scary time to work in health care, it’s also an interesting one, since we have the chance to really make a difference,” she says. “My entire career has focused on working with evidence and its use in practice, which clearly comes in handy right now. Whether it’s in a school setting or in acute care [at a hospital], the basic principles and priorities of keeping people safe are exactly the same.”
Though Nickerson’s most recent experience is as a neonatal ICU nurse at Maine Medical Center, she has also (in addition to her time at Gould Academy) worked in medical surgical and neuroscience ICUs, as a faculty member in the nursing and health information technology programs at the University of Maine Fort Kent and Eastern Maine Community College, and as a registered nurse for several summers at Kamp Kohut, a residential summer camp in Maine.
“When it comes to nursing, I’ve always thought it an asset to have diverse experience in different regions and specialties; I’ve never met a nursing job I didn’t like, and I love teenagers,” says Nickerson, who has four children (all teens and young adults). “They are very savvy and will fact-check you on everything. They are far better informed than I was at that age. The trick is teaching them how to evaluate and filter all the information available at their fingertips.”
Nickerson holds degrees in nursing, education, and advanced leadership in health care from St. Lawrence College in Ontario, Immaculata University near Philadelphia, Walden University in Baltimore, and Regis University’s Hartman College for Health Professions in Denver. Her husband, Graham Williams, is a nurse anesthetist, and their two youngest children, Ellie Williams ’22 and Gavin Williams ’24, have enrolled as students at Mercersburg.
For more than a quarter-century at Mercersburg, Barone has led the school’s Health and Wellness Center, which operates 24 hours a day and seven days a week while students are on campus. Barone oversaw the department’s 2018 move into the fully renovated Rutherford Health and Wellness Center, featuring ample space, equipment, and staffing for acute medical care and guidance with student matters ranging from counseling services to nutrition and overall wellness and support.