June Leifson, 2000 Alumni Achievement Award winner, College of Nursing
While walking through the Smith Fieldhouse during course registration, June Leifson (BS ’57) received some life changing news. As she passed the nursing table, the dean of the College of Nursing pulled Leifson aside and asked if she was still interested in the nursing program. Leifson responded with an emphatic “I sure am!” and finally, after facing rejection from nursing programs at BYU, Utah State University, and the University of Utah, was told she could enter BYU’s nursing program on provisional status.
Born with a cleft lip and palate, Leifson always knew she wanted to become a nurse—a dream kindled by the kind nurses she encountered during childhood hospital stays. But with the physical obstacles brought on by her cleft lip and palate, this goal proved difficult for Leifson to achieve.
“My speech really was a challenge,” Leifson explains. “I took speech therapy and recorded my voice. I couldn’t understand a thing I had said and that was very discouraging.” But Leifson didn’t let these frustrations stop her from pursuing her dream career. “I felt like I really was helped by the Lord,” she says of her acceptance into the nursing program at BYU. Throughout her time at BYU, Leifson underwent several surgeries that made it difficult to keep up with her coursework. But, undaunted by these obstacles, Leifson studied hard and went on to graduate with a degree in nursing. “It was worth it,” she recalls.
After graduation, Leifson worked at LDS Hospital before moving to Hawaii to become a public health nurse. While in Hawaii, an unexpected meeting with Elder Spencer W. Kimball allowed Leifson to realize a dream she had never expected to attain.
“I had always wanted to go on a mission,” Leifson explains, “but knew I could not with my speech.” But with Elder Kimball’s help, Leifson was able to submit her application. She received a mission call to Japan and served for two years in Osaka, Hiroshima, and Tokyo. “To me, it was truly a miracle,” Leifson recalls. “I never thought I would serve a mission, and I got to.”
For Leifson, overcoming challenges was the only option. “I didn’t know how to give up” Leifson explains, crediting the support she received from her family for her drive to succeed. “I was treated like anyone else in my family,” she recalls. “I was expected to do what my brothers and sisters did.” That encouragement, combined with Leifson’s genuine love for nursing, got her through school and onto her successful career in the field of nursing.
After her mission, Leifson worked for the Health Department in Salt Lake City before returning to school, eventually earning a master’s in nursing from Wayne State University. After teaching at the University of Utah for seven years, Leifson returned to BYU to earn her Ph.D. and teach. Leifson remained at BYU for 24 years, becoming the associate dean and eventually the dean of the College of Nursing.
The transition to teaching wasn’t easy at first, as Leifson’s favorite part of nursing was the interaction with individual patients. “I missed that when I went into teaching,” Leifson says. But her experiences and love for the nursing field proved beneficial to the students she influenced during her academic career. “I wanted the students to really care about the patient,” Leifson says of her time at BYU.
Although she has retired from teaching, Leifson still has a message for aspiring nurses. “Study hard,” she advises, “and love nursing like I have.” While she says you must “give all you can” in nursing, she also suggests finding balance between nursing and life. For Leifson, that balance came through the magnificent Japanese-themed garden she cultivated in her backyard throughout her career. “I just loved being out, working in the yard,” Leifson said. “I don’t do a lot now, but I still miss it.” Retired from both nursing and gardening, Leifson has lately filled her time doing family history work for her Icelandic ancestors.
—Melissa Barber Garrison ('16)