Danielle McBurnett has had people compare her to the main character in the old television show “Doogie Howser, M.D.,” about a teenage doctor.
The first time she heard that comparison, however, someone had to explain to her who Doogie Howser was. The show was canceled in 1993, when she was just 1 year old.
On Wednesday, McBurnett, 17, became the youngest person ever to receive a bachelor of science degree from Arizona State University’s College of Nursing and Healthcare Innovation. She graduated summa cum laude from the program and plans to enroll in the school’s doctoral program in nursing practice in the fall.
McBurnett lives in Chandler with her parents, Ray and Lori, and three siblings. She was home-schooled, but at age 12 she started taking classes at Chandler-Gilbert Community College.
She received her associate degree (4.0 grade-point average) and high-school diploma at the age of 15 and enrolled at ASU.
She said she has never let her age stand in the way of accomplishments.
“Most people (when told her age) have just said, ‘Wow, that’s amazing.’ When I meet people, I don’t wear a big name tag that says, ‘Hi, I’m Danielle, I’m 17.’ I’ll tell some people when it’s pertinent information, but I don’t let my age dictate who I am.”
McBurnett has always carried herself in a mature fashion, said her mother, Lori McBurnett.
“She was born an adult, that’s the world she wanted to live in,” she said. “When she was very, very small, she wanted to talk with the adults and be with the adults. She didn’t want to play with toys. That was her nature.”
Danielle McBurnett has also been active in performing arts: She plays piano and has acted in a variety of plays. That training has helped boost her confidence and allowed her to project herself in a more dynamic fashion.
She said college just sharpened her focus on a goal she has held since she was 10 years old.
“I knew I wanted to be a nurse,” McBurnett said. “Now, I’m more focused on what I want to be on top of that and the next degrees I want to get. Now, I want to be a nurse practitioner. After that, I’m even considering going to law school, too.”
McBurnett said she didn’t want to become a doctor because she wanted a closer relationship with patients and the doctor’s career path didn’t offer as much flexibility.
“Nurses really get to interact with patients more than doctors, typically,” McBurnett said. “I really want that human, patient interaction. Also, I want to have the ability to do lots of things. I don’t want to be confined to just being a doctor, and I feel like I can do that better as a nurse practitioner. And I want to possibly spend more time with my own children, some day in the future, and I feel I’d be better able to do that as a pediatric-nurse practitioner.”
She wants to eventually be an advocate for children, both domestically and abroad, which is why law school may be part of her future.
She has opinions on subjects ranging from the health-care system to tort reform that may make her seem mature beyond her years, but she has also taken part in more typical activities for girls her age.
“I did go to prom,” she said with a laugh. “The home-school community has its own prom. I’ve been to a number of dances, and I feel like I participated in every high school opportunity out there.”