Saint Francis alumna Taylor Mills hopes her nursing journey inspires high school students

Taylor Mills (BSN ’23) believes her story of persistence and perseverance would be most encouraging for high school students.

Yes, older people often feel their spirits lifted from hearing how Mills conquered formidable odds in challenging circumstances. They admire how she earned a nursing degree from the University of Saint Francis while dealing with VACTERL association, a non-random association of birth defects that impacts multiple parts of the body. Throughout her life, Mills has dealt with scoliosis, among other health issues.

But, as much as Mills appreciates how her story inspires others, her heart is wired to connect to younger people.

“I think many high school students are discouraged, especially in this day and age where the world is so different,” Mills said. “They are struggling with, ‘What am I supposed to do? What is my place?’ I would like my story to reach high schoolers and show them you can do anything.”

As a result of VACTERL association, Mills was born with missing tibia and fibula bones in her right leg and underwent a below-the-knee amputation at Shriners Children’s Chicago hospital when she was about 2. She had her first VEPTR rod surgery for scoliosis at 4, continuing every six months as she grew.

Mills’ positive attitude always remained intact.

“When I was 3, I told my parents I wanted to be an anesthesiologist. I wouldn’t do that now. Surgery is not my area,” she said.

After graduating from Wayne High School—where she defied the odds and played on the golf team—Mills entered the pre-medical program at Saint Francis in 2017. She spent about two years in the program before switching to nursing because of her desire for more direct patient contact. Then, COVID-19 hit. At the same time, issues arose with rod pain, which led to her decision to have spinal fusion surgery. That surgery then had to wait due to the pandemic. After initially thinking she would come right back to Saint Francis after the first of two surgeries, she decided to take about 18 months off.

When Mills finally returned to Saint Francis in the fall of 2022, she focused fully on her nursing degree.

“I had to take a leap of faith and it ended up working out really well,” Mills said. “My professors were very good at helping me figure out certain things, since I had a no-lifting restriction and most of our job as nurses is making patients comfortable in bed. I did really well just asking for help.”

Mills’ determination impressed Saint Francis Assistant Professor and BSN Assistant Program Director Jennifer Richard.

“When I think about Taylor, immediately her bright smile is the first thing that comes to my mind,” Richard said. “While Taylor has faced many challenges, she never sees them as obstacles but instead faces them with determination. I can’t wait to see what she does next with her nursing career.” 

One of the issues that Mills’ condition affected was her ability to spike IV bags. Her Saint Francis Nursing Instructor LaTesa Shidler of Parkview Health noticed the problem and that led to the Mirro Center creating an adaptive device to help Mills with the procedure. “They are actually working on a final one now,” Mills said. “That was really helpful that LaTesa would take the time to find help for me.”

Mills’ nature is to help others, too. Her dream job is to work as a nurse at Shriners Children’s Chicago. She has been in touch with them and remains hopeful that a spot will become available.

“I have been in very open communication with them since all of my surgeries were there,” Mills said. “It’s a matter of whether they have a position open. A lot of people have the idea that the hospital is really big, but it’s less than 30 in patient beds and five in PICU (pediatric intensive care unit) beds. The Shriners system is big but the actual hospital in Chicago is not.”

Mills felt a mixture of relief and excitement upon passing her nursing board exam. She dealt with a lot of pressure initially when switching from pre-med to nursing but says the Saint Francis program was perfect for her because of the connection with professors.

“There were times when I thought, ‘Am I really supposed to do this?’ but I’m really glad I did,” she said.