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Dr. Toni Morris ‘12 (Nursing Education): Following Her Servant’s Heart to UIndy and Beyond

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To have a servant’s heart is to dedicate yourself to serving others and putting the needs of your community before your own. Dr. Toni Morris’ servant heart led her not only to return to the University of Indianapolis as a part of the faculty in the School of Nursing, but also to incorporate service-learning into her courses and to volunteer her talents in the operating room on mission trips with Team Hope in Motion (HIM) through Faith in Practice.  

Dr. Morris first joined UIndy as a graduate student, earning her Master’s in Nursing Education in 2012. During her studies, Dr. Morris had the opportunity to also work as an adjunct professor in the School of Nursing. 

“Having the opportunity to teach in a classroom setting while I was going through school was really special,” said Dr. Morris. “It reinforced my passion for lifelong learning and education.”

To continue her dream of teaching, Dr. Morris went on to earn her Doctorate of Nursing Practice from Indiana State University. While she may have become a Sycamore, she was still a Greyhound at heart.

“I’ve always loved UIndy,” she said. “I actually grew up about five miles from here and still live in the area. So I always knew that I wanted to come back.”

Now as an Assistant Professor in the School of Nursing, Dr. Morris teaches a senior-level community and public health nursing course. Recently, Dr. Morris has turned the course into a service-learning model with the help of the UIndy Center for Service-Learning and Community Engagement (CSLCE)

“One of the things I appreciate most about UIndy is our motto, ‘Education for Service,’” said Dr. Morris. “It seemed natural to me to have a service-learning component in our community health course. I spent some time with our fantastic Center for Service-Learning and Community Engagement and they educated me on what service-learning is and how it differentiates from community service. From that I learned that whenever we partner with an organization for a service-learning project, it needs to have a solid foundation so that the groups of students are grounded in the mission, vision, and values of the organization they’re working with. Then, once the students have met with their assigned community partner and are aligned with the organization’s purpose, they’ll work on a health promotion project that will satisfy the needs of our course as well as fulfill a need for the community partner.”

Furthermore, each semester Dr. Morris assigns one of the eight student groups to work with a southside community organization or with UIndy. This ensures that the students truly are giving back to their community. The COVID-19 pandemic actually offered the student groups many opportunities for these types of partnerships.

UIndy Athletics needed COVID surveillance testing for student-athletes per a mandate from the NCAA,” explained Dr. Morris. “And our senior-level community health nursing students partnered with Athletics to fulfill that community need. Our nursing students performed mid-turbinate nasal swab testing and helped with COVID contact tracing and contact tracing education on campus. The partnership educated our students on the process, how to handle positive cases and how to communicate important health promotion education during a pandemic.” 

The ability to collaborate with departments and offices across the UIndy campus enriches the students’ educational experience. Nursing students benefit from real-world opportunities and hands-on problem solving.

“I am so appreciative of the level of collaboration and support I’ve received from various departments across campus,” said Dr. Morris. “The campus has really embraced its dedication to education for service. I’m excited to partner with even more departments in the future.”

But Dr. Morris’ dedication to service extends far beyond the UIndy campus. Every year, for the past 17 years (with the exception of the COVID pandemic), Dr. Morris and her husband travel to Guatemala with an orthopedic surgical team, Team Hope in Motion (HIM), to perform total hip, total knee, and foot and ankle surgeries for those in need. The team recently partnered with Faith In Practice, a non-profit organization that assists the team with procuring and managing medical supplies and finding patients who are truly in need of life-changing orthopedic surgery. These patients would not be able to afford the surgery otherwise. 

One of Dr. Morris’ most memorable experiences – and there are plenty to choose from – was when she and the team were able to help Ericka, a five year old girl who was born with a club foot. 

“Ericka was very special,” recalled Dr. Morris. “Her mother and grandmother did not want her due to her deformity and she lives with her uncle. Thanks to our team, Ericka can now wear normal shoes and walk normally.”

Since Team HIM returns to the same location each year, they are able to check-in on how former patients are doing after their corrective surgeries, a powerful experience.

“There was another patient, a young woman who had a foot deformity,” said Dr. Morris. “She was sitting in a wheelchair and she had been using the side of her foot to move her wheelchair. And all she wanted to do was to be able to wear high heels again. So the team performed a corrective surgery and I was able to see her again a year later. To be able to see her foot go from sideways to straight and for her to have the ability to just wear high heels and be normal was so special.”

Dr. Morris hopes to return to Guatemala with Team HIM next year where she will continue to follow her servant’s heart and use her education and talents to change the lives of those in need.