For Missouri Southern students working toward getting their degree in nursing, matters of the heart generally don’t come into play until the third semester of the program.

That’s when they take a more in-depth look into the cardiovascular system and the muscular organ’s structure.

But for James and Shelby (Eads) Fowler, who both graduated in 2020, the heart became a central focus much earlier.

“We met in the nursing program when James and I were in the same lab group,” said Shelby. “At first we were just studying together, and things slowly developed into more of a relationship. And then we were dating.”

For James, it was Shelby’s sense of humor and smile that immediately caught his attention.

“She’s able to make me laugh so easily,” he said.

“I thought he was very sweet,” she said. “We instantly clicked. But I worried that if it didn’t work out, we’d be stuck together for the next two years, so I was a little hesitant. After a few weeks, it was undeniable that we were going to be together.”

Having graduated, they found positions within the local healthcare systems where they had performed their clinical internships – James at Mercy Hospital and Shelby at Freeman Health System – and were married on Aug. 1, 2021, in Vail, Colo.

Both say having a partner employed in the same field is an advantage.

“It’s really nice to have a spouse working in the same profession,” Shelby said. “Your best friend is right there and can relate. It makes things a little easier.”

Working as nurses during the ongoing COVID pandemic definitely has its challenges, the Fowlers said. In fact, completing their degrees was challenging as the pandemic “threw a wrench in everything,” James said.

But they have persevered – both as nurses and as a married couple – and have learned some important lessons along the way.

“You learn to keep your loved ones close and appreciate the time you have with people,” said Shelby. “We’ve both seen the effects of COVID and how family can be taken away from you. We know how important it is to love one another, and how precious life is.”