NDSU Nursing alum receives Meritorious Citizenship Award from Minnesota State Patrol for assisting at roadside emergency

Photo of Emily Kunkel holding an award plaque

Turning around to go back to retrieve a water bottle that she forgot delayed a road trip and placed Emily Kunkel (NDSU BSN ’21) in the right place at the right time. She was driving from her work as a nurse in Minneapolis to visit family in North Dakota.

“I saw the patrol vehicle lights and thought, ‘Oh, there must have been a small accident,’ said Kunkel. “A few more seconds later I saw the glass and debris on the road and two police officers performing CPR,” she recalls. “I didn't think to consider whether I should or shouldn’t help. I was already considering where I could safely move and park my vehicle.

“While on my way to the officers, I checked on the other victims of the car wreck. I told the officers I was a nurse and asked how I could help. They looked tired. Anyone who has done chest compressions before knows it doesn’t take much to exhaust yourself. I took over compressions while the officers tried to establish an open airway. I don't know how long I did chest compressions, but once additional first responders arrived, I was asked to further assess and stay with the other victims,” explains Kunkel.

For her efforts, a state trooper Kunkel met at the accident scene nominated Emily for a Meritorious Citizenship Award, presented at a ceremony in February. The honor is given to individuals who have assisted the Minnesota State Patrol in providing a significant service to the public.

“By taking the initiative at a very chaotic scene, Emily Kunkel contributed to the victims’ chances of survival,” said the summary of Kunkel’s actions provided by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.

Kunkel said she never expected to receive an award for her actions. “My reward was leaving the scene unharmed, knowing I did everything I could to the best of my ability for those people. I am honored to have been nominated by an officer,” she said.

Training received in NDSU’s nursing program helped her prepare for emergency situations, according to Kunkel. 

“My professor during my critical care semester highlighted the fact that intense situations like rapid responses benefit from a calming presence and precise direction. NDSU gave me opportunities to practice closed communication during mock codes and simulations,” explained Kunkel. “NDSU also taught me the importance of therapeutic communication. The hardest part of the day wasn't doing CPR, it was coming up with the right words to comfort the surviving victims who would have to remember this experience for the rest of their lives.”

Kunkel’s experiences growing up and her nursing expertise may have both made a difference the day of the accident. “Seeing my mom help others as a child did subconsciously make an impact on my decision to stop that day,” said Emily, whose mom, Dr. Charys Kunkel, serves as director of NDSU School of Nursing at Sanford Health in Bismarck.

Growing up, Emily has memories of her mother helping strangers needing medical assistance. “One instance, we were on a family vacation in Wisconsin Dells. A man fell, landing on his head, and was profusely bleeding on the sidewalk pavement. My mom held the man steady and spoke calming words to him and his wife until the paramedics arrived.

“If she was emotional from the encounter, she made sure not to project that onto her kids. As an adult, I can now understand how hard that must have been to do,” said Emily.

“Over the years I've seen how much time and effort my mom has put into the nursing program and her students. Granted, being the student of a professor also meant I had to be the example more than once during her pediatric lectures or the ‘patient’ for a demonstration video. She wants every student to succeed,” said Emily, who now works in a cardiac care step-down unit.

Kunkel credits growing up on the family farm near New Salem, North Dakota, with also impacting her commitment to a strong work ethic and service, saying of her dad, “If something needed to get done, he would always be there.”

The NDSU School of Nursing provides bachelor’s and graduate nursing education at sites in Bismarck and Fargo, North Dakota. Programs are available for part- and full-time students, working professionals and those seeking online educational opportunities.


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