Cheryl Learn, PhD and the College of Nursing building
By Marlena Bermel

Teaching Affects Eternity

Retired Professor of Nursing Cared For By Former Students

‘A teacher affects eternity: [They] can never tell where [their] influence stops.’ –Henry Adams.

These words were never truer then when Cheryl Learn, PhD, professor emerita in The University of New Mexico College of Nursing, was recently admitted to a local hospital due to difficulty breathing.

During Learn’s stay, the nurse who cared for her on the medical/surgical unit immediately recognized her as her former professor and provided outstanding care.

A second nurse who came to take the 80-year-old’s vitals told her, “You taught me how to do this.” Surprised, Learn lightheartedly responded, “I’m glad I taught someone something.”

Learn’s children, George Learn, Deborah Breitfeld and Rachel Learn Mayercek, truly appreciated the significance of that moment.

Cheryl Learn, PhD
Cheryl Learn, PhD


“We know she taught hundreds of nurses over many years,” Mayercek said. “And now, they are there for her when she needs them most.

“She taught them the skills and science of nursing but also how to be caring and thoughtful with patients. She is now on the receiving end of all of those years of educating nurses. Teaching was a lifetime ago and yet her legacy lives on.”

For Learn and her family, those nurses came back into her life to care for her at a critical point. To have those she taught provide her with such devoted care brought her expertise and life experience full circle.

Learn retired in 2006, after spending the greater part of 20 years teaching at UNM. In 1989, she was instrumental in bringing nursing education to rural areas of New Mexico via instructional television.

It allowed nurses to earn their bachelor’s degree by taking classes carried on a cable channel without leaving their home. Students watching a lecture live at home could call in with questions. It was in many ways the precursor to online education.

Learn received many awards during her UNM career, including The Lifetime Achievement Award in Nursing from the Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society. She was also the university’s director of Women’s Studies for more than five years in the early 2000s.

Professors know they are educating the next generation of nurses, but they sometime don’t realize the impact of their work goes beyond helping their students find a career. 

Learn’s family hopes that current faculty members might recognize their impact on the future and that their own students could very well be there for them too, when they need them the most.

She is now on the receiving end of all of those years of educating nurses. Teaching was a lifetime ago and yet her legacy lives on
β€” Rachel Learn Mayercek
Categories: College of Nursing, Education, Top Stories