uc irvine school of nursing assistant clinical professor stephanie au

Assistant Clinical Professor Stephanie Au with her husband and two children.

When she was growing up, Stephanie Au wanted to follow in her mother’s footsteps and be a teacher.

She wasn’t sure how she could make that happen, though, watching her mother struggle to raise three children on her own on a teacher’s salary.

“I watched how hard it was and how undercompensated teachers really are,” Au recalls.

Unsure of what else might be a fit, a counselor suggested Au dabble in community college and “see what theme emerges from it.”

She took the advice.

Finding a long-term path

As it happens, she met the requirements to enroll in nursing school. When her counselor suggested she could combine academics and nursing as her long-term career path, “that got my mind reeling.”

Her mother put her in touch with a nursing educator friend so Au could pick her brain.

“I asked her everything, the avenues, the benefits, the drawbacks. That’s how the whole thing got started.”

Today, Au is living her dream as an assistant clinical professor at the UCI Sue & Bill Gross School of Nursing.

‘There are a million opportunities in nursing’

One of her passions is mentoring students about the profession of nursing and the various avenues one can take within it.

“If you’re not in love with bedside, that’s okay. There are a million opportunities in nursing,” she says.

“You can go into research, teaching, entrepreneurship, pharmaceuticals, medical sales, hospital administration. The avenues are so great for this expertise.”

That kind of wise counsel at a fork in the road of one’s life can make all the difference, as it did for Au. She aims to pay the advice forward in her medical-surgical and nursing fundamentals classes.

“A good counselor can take what interests you, your passion, and figure out how to turn that into a profession.”

Au also owes a debt of gratitude to the nurses who created the path for today’s nurses to make a greater difference in society.

“The expansion that nursing is having is amazing — being able to own your own practice, fill gaps in medical services in rural areas…It’s just really cool.”

A better learning experience

Au’s next step at the nursing school is to build and launch a new learning model called a Dedicated Education Unit (DEU).

Currently, nursing students are paired with a nurse to teach them — a preceptor — throughout a shift. Because the student/nurse pair is different each shift, valuable time is lost reacclimating. Often, the new preceptor doesn’t know what the previous preceptor taught the student.

“You spend the first 3-4 hours of every shift just learning about each other,” Au says. It can also be stressful on both sides.

The DEU will instead pair students and preceptors for 10 weeks. The matches will be made based on learning and teaching styles to ensure a good fit.

“When you have that constant contact and don’t have to reorient every time, the learning opportunities are so much greater, the teacher understands what you know and can seek out opportunities to challenge you.”

Future doctor of nursing practice

Au is currently pursuing her doctor of nursing practice degree with a focus on executive leadership full time at the University of Pennsylvania.

In her spare time, she loves doing arts and crafts with her two young children and making keepsakes for them. She and her husband of six years look forward to getting back to traveling after the pandemic. “We lived in Leon, France, for a winter and it was incredible!”