Nursing alumna honored with prestigious Milken Educator Award

by Matt Jardin  |   

Megan Eilers
(Photo courtesy of the Milken Educator Awards)

What began as a routine morning assembly became a surprise award ceremony for nursing alumna and health occupations teacher Megan Eilers. On Jan. 30, gathered in the Hutchison High School gym with students, fellow teachers, school administrators and the media, Eilers was announced as a 2023-24 Milken Educator Award recipient. 

Founded in 1987 and hailed as the “Oscars of teaching,” the Milken Educator Awards honor exceptional early-to-mid career educators with $25,000 in unrestricted funds for their already impressive achievements and the promise of what they will accomplish in the future. Eilers is the third UAA grad to receive the award.

In her role at the Fairbanks career and technical high school, Eilers prepares students who are interested in pursuing careers in the health care field after graduation. Her curriculum includes specialized material like pharmacy technician training, as well as more general knowledge beneficial for anyone to know, like navigating health insurance and proper diet and nutrition.

“Thinking back to my own high school experience, there wasn't anything meaningful regarding career exploration. Sometimes I think maybe if I would have had the opportunity to take some of the classes that I teach, that I would have gotten excited about something earlier in life. A lot of high schoolers feel that way, so I am all about exposing kids to the endless possibilities of what they can do and help them decide what they are passionate about,” said Eilers. 

Additionally, Eilers is Hutchison High School’s HOSA Future Health Professionals advisor. An international student organization recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services, HOSA fosters student interest in health care careers through curricula, conferences and competitions.

Eilers’ effectiveness as a health care educator draws from her own experience as a registered nurse. Starting as a certified nursing assistant (CNA) at a long-term care facility, she became a labor and delivery nurse after the birth of her own children, which gave her an appreciation for those working in the specialty. Eilers also served as a part-time methadone dispensing nurse, treating patients who struggled with addiction.

Desiring a more consistent schedule, Eilers became a school nurse and, in the process, developed a passion for working with students. So when a position teaching health care at Hutchison High School opened up, she jumped at the opportunity.

“Nurses are inherent educators. We educate our patients all the time. But there are lots of routes to becoming an actual teacher, and I came in on an untraditional route, so it was a little difficult for me. But I learned my first year — and this is golden advice I would give to anybody teaching — if students genuinely know that you care about them and that what you're doing is something to benefit them, they will work for you,” said Eilers.

Like her transition into teaching, Eilers’ transition into nursing was similarly the result of a leap of faith. Not knowing what career she wanted to pursue after high school, Eilers tagged along with a friend who invited her to check out a CNA course. Eilers was instantly drawn to the field and immediately enrolled in UAA’s nursing program, which let her take classes via distance at UAF.

This June, Eilers and her fellow honorees will attend an all-expenses-paid Milken Educator Awards Forum in Los Angeles where she can network with her new colleagues, veteran Milken Educators and other education leaders about how to broaden their impact on K-12 education.

Coincidentally, the forum will kick off a yearlong leave of absence from Hutchison High School, during which Eilers will spend some well-earned time with her family while going back to work as a labor and delivery nurse. Still, she remains committed to teaching — Eilers will continue as an adjunct professor at UAF while also serving as a mentor and resource to new nurses and other teachers.

“Education is important to me. Inspiring kids is important to me. One of the expectations of recipients of the Milken Educator Award is looking at what good does this educator still have to do in their career. So taking this leave of absence, I’ll be thinking about the ways I can still be involved in public education and inspire kids, and when I come back I'll be rejuvenated and excited to keep doing the work I've been doing,” said Eilers.

Creative Commons License "Nursing alumna honored with prestigious Milken Educator Award" is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.