When Justin Oeth ’06, stopped into work to help out for a few hours one July evening in 2012, he had no idea every skill and life lesson he had learned, both at Mount Mercy University and in his career, would be put to the test.

Oeth was the highest ranking manager on duty in the emergency room at University of Colorado Hospital, July 20, 2012, when a gunman opened fire in a movie theatre full of people less than five miles away in Aurora. Twelve were killed and more than 70 injured.

“At Mount Mercy, I learned not only the art and science of nursing, but also the why,” Oeth said. “We need to be ready to challenge the normal and push beyond the status quo. Answering the why of nursing, Mount Mercy prepared me to do this.”

Though the events of July 2012 are not always easy for him to recount, Oeth said he now has a better appreciation for his training as a nurse, and that this event “helped me to recognize that when bad events happen, teams can come together and take care of people.”

Oeth said patients started arriving at the ER at about 1 a.m., less than half an hour after hospital staff were initially alerted to the emergency situation.

[photo] Justin Oeth '06
Justin Oeth ’06

“Within the first half hour, we got 24 patients in critical condition,” Oeth said. “It was a pretty intense situation. These were innocent bystanders who were caught in a terrible situation. They needed our help and they needed it fast. Ultimately, every patient that came into our facility alive, left alive.”

In the moment of crisis, Oeth relied on his training and his team. He fell back on the lessons of compassion and the value given to the life of each individual, taught through the Mercy tradition at Mount Mercy. But not long after the attack, he began questioning the why of the situation as well as the why of his own career trajectory. Why he felt able to rise to the occasion and do what needed to be done.

“These were innocent bystanders who were caught in a terrible situation. They needed our help and they needed it fast.” — Justin Oeth ’06

“I had to ask myself why I was in nursing,” he said. “It was a challenging question, an internal dialogue with myself. That was probably the most enlightening moment for me when I realized, ‘Wow, I really can be in situations like this and help coordinate and lead a team.’”

Oeth now serves as manager of the University of Colorado Hospital Emergency Department. On an average day, about 300 patients receive care from his team of 240 medical and staff professionals.

“I learned over the months following the shooting that we need to reflect on events like this and learn from them. This was a terrible, terrible event. But if we don’t look at it and analyze why we do what we do, the event can pass us by and we don’t learn anything from it.”

Mount Mercy promotes reflective judgment, strategic communication, the common good and purposeful living through a core curriculum, liberal arts and professional majors and student development programs.

from the Mount Mercy University Mission Statement