“The day you were born doesn’t have to determine what you can do.”
Simple words, but they’re words that Gilbert resident and Miss Maricopa County Danielle McBurnett has lived by.
In June, she’ll be competing at the Miss Arizona pageant on a platform for “inspiring victory in the lives of children fighting chronic illness.”
“It basically came about because I’m a nurse practitioner,” she said about her platform.
Graduating with a masters in nursing at the age of 18, McBurnett, now 20, is one of the youngest nurse practitioner in the country.
She graduated from Chandler-Gilbert Community College at 15, Arizona State University with her nursing degree at 17 and ASU again for her masters shortly before she turned 19.
If it’s possible to convince others that anything they wish to achieve is possible, McBurnett might be the one to do it.
“I honestly believe more people could do what I did if given the same opportunity,” she said. “I didn’t want people to judge me by my age or tell me I couldn’t do something because I wasn’t old enough.”
McBurnett began taking courses at Chandler-Gilbert Community College at the age of 12, eventually being accepted into Arizona State University’s highly competitive nursing program with a 4.0 GPA at 15 years old.
“I always liked science and I liked taking care of people,” she said.
But going to nursing school wasn’t just about having the grades, test scores, or drive.
“They didn’t even know if I could go to nursing school,” Burnett said. It was a first for the school, accepting a student so young.
“They didn’t even know if it was legal. But the only Arizona law they found was that you have to be 16 to administer narcotics. Coincidentally, I turned 16 the week I had to administer narcotics.”
At 17, she graduated in 2009 after completing the accelerated 18-month nursing program at the Polytechnic campus in Mesa.
At the time, at least, she was the youngest nurse in Arizona, according to ASU
And since most private practices and hospitals wouldn’t hire a minor, she decided to pursue her masters in nursing right away.
Again, McBurnett returned to ASU. She began working about 20 hours a week as a research assistant to help pay for tuition, on top of her 16 credit course load and 20 hours a week clinical.
“I look back and I don’t even know how I did that,” she said with a laugh.
It was the search for scholarships that lead her to apply for anything she qualified for, McBurnett said.
“The Rose of Tralee competition had a $1,000 scholarship and a free trip to Ireland,” McBurnett said. “It’s a speaking competition, and it was one of those things where you show up, wear a dress and speak.”
After winning the Arizona and regional competitions, she was one of 32 international finalists who competed in Ireland.
It was during this “selection” that first introduced McBurnett to the idea of participating in pageants for scholarship money.
“I almost laughed at her,” Burnett said when someone suggested she should try the Miss America pageant circuit. “I never saw myself as a pageant person.”
She may not be a self-described “pageant person,” but last year she was third runner up at the Miss Arizona and could be a major contender for the title this year.
However, this year she has missed out on a lot of training, McBurnett said. While visiting Oregon with her boyfriend in late March, the two were in a serious snowmobile accident.
“We fell down an unmarked, 15-foot ravine,” McBurnett said. She became hypothermic and unresponsive before she could reach the hospital. There, they determined she had a concussion.
“I remember hearing what they were saying and knowing what it meant,” she said. “It was really scary.”
Daniel, her boyfriend, refused to leave her side for hours, McBurnett said. It wasn’t until nearly 12 hours later that he discovered he had a fractured spine and three facial fractures.
After a nearly a week in the hospital, the two had a chaotic trip home.
“There was bad weather, it was the middle of spring break and planes kept on breaking down,” McBurnett said with a small laugh. “It’ll be a good chapter in a book someday.”
While things haven’t gone according to plan and her training and preparation for the competition might be behind — the Miss Arizona pageant is June 23 — that’s not what matters, McBurnett said.
“Every minute you have, you have to use to the best of your ability,” she said. “You have to cherish every moment.”
And while it seems McBurnett has used every moment, she said other milestones haven’t been lost in the mix.
“I don’t feel like I missed out on anything,” McBurnett said. “I still went to prom, I swam for 10 years, I played piano and violin, I did musicals and plays with church and other groups, I was involved in Youth in Government. I never felt like I missed out on anything.”
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