University Scholar Harper Hornaday Shares His Path to Nursing School

University Scholar Harper Hornaday Shares His Path to Nursing School

Hornaday transitioned from a background in literature and teaching high school English to pursuing his childhood dream of working in healthcare


This article was adapted for the web and originally appeared in the Spring/Summer 2024 edition of Duke Nursing Magazine.

John "Harper" Hornaday remembers watching Discovery Health TV as a child and dreaming of working in healthcare someday. Now an ABSN student at the Duke University School of Nursing, he is making his dream a reality and getting a big boost from a prestigious award. 

Hornaday was named a 2023 University Scholar last fall, which comes with a full scholarship and allows him to collaborate with undergraduate, graduate and professional scholars from across Duke's disciplines. 

“It truly is an honor to be a part of such a group,” he said. “It's a recognition of the intellectual tone that I've tried to set throughout my education and work, and it's motivation to remain intellectually curious throughout nursing school and beyond into my career and life.” 

The Duke University Scholar Program is designed to stimulate an interdisciplinary, intergenerational community of scholars. Students from undergraduate, graduate and professional schools at Duke are selected for their ability to explore new academic horizons. They represent a range of personal and intellectual backgrounds and share an excitement for original research, collaborative, thinking and innovative scholarship.  

Hornaday will join other scholars for retreats, dinners and seminars. The informal seminars are held every two weeks and bring together scholars and faculty, as well as distinguished visiting scholars, scientists and artists. Students of all levels are encouraged to lead a seminar on their own work-in-progress or on a topic of particular interest to them. 

Each year, the scholars showcase their research and scholarship in a symposium and invite the entire university community to attend.  

“It's a place to discuss ideas and research, and to generally be a part of a smaller scholarly group within the larger Duke community,” said Hornaday. “The program encourages us to be a part of the USP community even after graduation, which I plan to be, especially if I stay on campus for graduate school or work for Duke University Health System.” 

Enjoying DUSON’s Vast Resources 

Hornaday says he has taken a roundabout way to get into healthcare, but he is proud of his path. In high school, he worked as a student athletic trainer and earned his wilderness EMT certification. But he decided to get a bachelor’s degree in comparative literature in college and teach high school English for several years.  

He and his husband eventually opened a wine-importing company but had to close it during the pandemic. Hornaday soon felt the pull back to healthcare and enrolled at the School of Nursing. 

“I recognized the fact that Duke is a place where I would get an amazing nursing education, and where I could participate in academic and scholarly work,” he said. “The resources are vast, from simulations in the Center for Nursing Discovery to independent research opportunities with the Health Innovation Lab. And those are just in the School of Nursing. The resources and opportunities campus wide are virtually unlimited.” 

One thing Hornaday likes most about nursing is the range of opportunities – from bedside care to forensic work to research and teaching. He plans to focus his career on psychiatry and mental health nursing, with a focus on pediatrics, but he is not sure in exactly what capacity.  

With graduation planned in December 2024, Hornaday is considering several options, including working with clients in outpatient centers, crisis intervention or working with global organizations such as the World Health Organization or United Nations.  

As he determines his next steps, he advises other School of Nursing students to trust their instincts and stay true to themselves – skills that have served him well.  

“Follow you! You never know where you'll end up until you're there,” he said. “As it goes for your time at Duke, take advantage of all the resources, make friends and acquaintances with a lot of different people, and don't be afraid to befriend professors. So many amazing opportunities have come about because of the connections I've made.” 

The University Scholars Program was created in 1998 by the Office of the Vice-Provost of Interdisciplinary Studies with a gift from Duke University Trustee Emerita Melinda French Gates and her husband Bill Gates, through the William H. Gates Foundation. 


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