You’ve probably heard of actor by day, bartender by night – or some such equivalent – but who here ever would have conceptualized the idea of nurse by day, actor by… day? Since her well-loved stint as Harper on Disney’s Wizards of Waverly Place, Jennifer Stone has added a new role to her resume – one you won’t find listed on her IMDB page: A real-life emergency room RN. And despite what many have thought, she’s far from retired from Hollywood. She may’ve taken a brief intermission (see what I did there?) to focus on her education, but she spent her only two weeks off from nursing school jumping right back in to shoot The In-Between. Today she’s balancing the two with grace, using what she learns on each job to better herself in the other and proving to us all that you can hold on to all of your passions as long as you’re willing to put in the work.
Quitting Acting? Not Even Close
When Stone first decided to pursue nursing, many assumed she was giving up acting in the process. “Even to this day I have people that’ll go, ‘Oh, she’s quit acting to become a nurse, or you’re going to quit nursing to continue acting,’ and I’m like, ‘No!’ You can do both. Don’t let people tell you that you can’t,” she tells Her Campus. Just because she found a new passion doesn’t mean she lost the old one. “I’m a big believer that if you have a passion for something you should go after it. It’s not like my passion for acting ever went away, you know? It’s always been there and it’s just as fervent as it ever has been. I just had this newfound passion for nursing as well, so I wanted to pursue both. It’s not going to be easy, I know that. I definitely have to work even harder than I ever have to keep both going, but it’s absolutely worth it,” she says. She warns anyone that’s struggling to balance two passions, “Be ready to know that people are going to not get it, and be ready to not take no for an answer. When people say no, I’m like, ‘Well, that’s your opinion. This is what brings me joy, so that’s what I’m going to do. Some people never find one passion in their life and I’m lucky to have found two.”
It was what she calls a “happy accident” that led her to discover her first passion, acting. “My brother loved video games, and one summer my mom was like, ‘Okay, you’re not going to play video games all summer, you have to do something else.’” Because of that, she was the kid that got dragged along to rehearsal. She wasn’t upset about it, though. “Of course I wanted to audition and have my shot at it,” she says. “The moment I stepped on the stage I fell in love and it got wildly out of control.” While she’d always had an interest in health sciences as well, it was her own experiences with the American healthcare system that led her to explore a new passion. In 2013, a year after Wizards of Waverly Place ended, Stone was diagnosed as a type 1 diabetic at 20 years old. “I didn’t have the most positive healthcare experience,” she says. “It took a long time. I started losing my eyesight and gaining weight at a rate that didn’t make any sense. My doctor went a bunch of different routes, and because I was older, they were like, ‘Oh, well you have to be type 2,’ so I went back and forth between every diagnosis in the book for about four years until I finally got the endocrinologist that I have now. It’s not something where I’m like, ‘Okay, cool, that’s fixed, we can move on from that now.’ It’s something I constantly have to manage and balance,” she says. Having to learn to reroute everything she knew about taking care of herself led her to want to learn more about her body. “I also wanted to make sure nobody went through what I went through.” She was going into college as a psychology major at the time, and it just made sense to her to switch. But she never could have anticipated what would be waiting for her just after graduation: Covid.
“That was an interesting twist to the whole story,” she says. “When I graduated in December of 2019 there were whispers, but [Covid] wasn’t really something that was on our radar. I started work a week after the ‘Safer at Home’ started in Los Angeles.” Jumping into a new career alongside a new set of stringent restrictions was surely a stressful new aspect, but she didn’t have a lot of time to think about it. Today, she’s still processing the things that happened in 2020. “Not only was I starting a job that takes growing pains anyway, but [I was] doing it during a pandemic, when nobody really [knew] the right way to do things, or what the protocol [was] because it hadn’t happened for a century. So I’m still coming to terms with it. I’m still figuring it out, [but] I think we all are!”
Combining – And Complementing – Skillsets
Acting to nursing may seem like a wild leap, but the two overlap much more than Stone could have anticipated. “I thought it would be like, ‘I’ve got my actor brain and my nurse brain, and the two shall not mix,’ but they really do a lot,” she says. “When you break it down, acting and nursing are both really about empathy. I find myself becoming a better actor because of nursing, and I find myself being a better nurse from having been an actor.” The work she puts into stepping into other people’s shoes and learning to understand them in order to shape her characters has led to the reward of not only being able to help others, but to grow her creativity. “It’s been surreal,” she adds.
But while her experience as an actor has given her the tools to relate with her patients, that history can sometimes get in the way. “If I’m in nurse mode and a patient recognizes me, that can make it a little challenging. There’ll be times when I’m trying to make an assessment and they just want to ask questions about Wizards or past work that I’ve done, and I’m trying to sit there like, ‘So when was your last bowel movement?’” she laughs. “But it’s always very sweet, and I’ve learned to look at it as a way of getting to make them feel a little bit of joy or a little bit of excitement on a day they normally would have just felt bad.”
It’s certainly a busy lifestyle. Actors and nurses can both have notoriously long days, and when you combine them it can feel nonstop. “My days off aren’t really days off. They’re days to get things done. There’ll be days where I’ll be in the break room on my 30 minute lunch break and I’ll be running lines for an audition that I have to do the next day. It does feel a little [frenzied] sometimes, but as long as I plan out my days I feel less all over the place, so that’s helpful.” She says that finding the anchor between the two is the key to managing it all, and preventing that feeling of burnout. “It’s interesting, there’s nothing [visibly] connecting both industries, but I look at it this way: Healthcare is something that I do for other people, and then acting is something that I get to do for myself; that’s me time. That’s when I get to replenish myself after giving to somebody who was maybe in a position where they just needed to take in that moment, if that makes sense,” she says.
The Impact Of Her “Me Time”
It’s been about 10 years since Wizards of Waverly Place went off the air – which I can’t believe I’ve said or typed (“It’s always jarring,” Stone adds) – but the love for it certainly hasn’t waned. It was the nostalgic love for Harper on TikTok that finally brought Stone to the app, where she loves interacting with those who look up to her and seeing the impact that her role in the series continues to make.
“TikTok is something that I was so resistant to at first. I was like, ‘What is this Snapchat knockoff?’” she jokes. “I could not wrap my head around it, [but] people kept sending me other TikToks that I was featured in.” Since joining, her favorite thing is seeing all of the love users have for Harper. “It’s amazing to me, the outfits that people put together. [One recently] had done this great citrus themed outfit that was totally wearable day-to-day. She had this big orange peel bag that was so cute with this great lemon dress, the whole thing came together so, so well,” she says. “Being able to interact with fans when they reach out to me and they’re like, ‘I’m in nursing school right now, I’m having a really hard time,’ or being able to applaud when they put together an awesome Harper-inspired outfit [is incredible].”
As a self-described old grandma, Stone is still getting the hang of making TikToks herself. But she loves to see what everyone else posts, especially about her characters. “I got into acting because I loved telling stories, and getting into the minds of other people, but it never crossed my mind that anyone would ever see anything I do,” she says. “I just always wanted to be a good actor and get better and challenge myself. So the fact that I have the opportunity to make things that people see and enjoy, and bring them happiness…is just an extra thing that I had never anticipated. I still kind of pinch myself every day. It’s just such a gift when somebody comes up and says, ‘Harper showed me that it was okay to be different, or to dress how I wanted to, or to be a little quirky,’ and it means the world to me.”
But as we’ve discerned, it’s certainly not all in the past. Last year, Stone co-wrote and produced The In-Between, which was her first time on the other side of the camera. “Mindy [Bledsoe – who co-starred] and I both have chronic conditions. She has complex regional pain syndrome type II, and we bonded over just being unrepresented in film. We wanted to make a movie that featured those conditions but didn’t make it about them, and didn’t make an after school special kind of thing,” she says. “So that was my first foray into writing and producing and acting all in one fell swoop, [and] it’s rewarding in a whole new way.” The effort put forth to create and bring her characters to life within the narrative that she’s presented with has always been rewarding for Stone, but that reward is multiplied by ten after having been in charge of it all. “To be able to create the story itself, to create all of the characters, and then help influence how it comes to be, and then to think of all the little challenges along the way and how you overcome them, and how sometimes it even makes the final product better? …There’s so many more aspects of effort and work that you put into it to have it come out in a way that you’re excited about. It’s just so fantastic. It’s something I’m really proud of, and I hope everyone gets to see it.”
That’s also why she was excited to work with Olay last year for their Face Anything campaign. “A lot of beauty companies will tell women what they’re lacking, [but] Olay likes to celebrate what women bring to the table. Rather than telling women that they need something or to be something else, we’re encouraging them to be the best version of themselves,” she says. “I love being a part of the Face Anything campaign because it emphasizes women that are athletes, scientists, artists, body positive influencers, where people told them no or things were challenging and they did it anyway. It’s these women that have overcome the limits that the world tried to set on them and are also influencing the next generation of girls to celebrate their natural beauty, to take care of their skin, and to shoot for the stars.” She worked with Olay to get more women into STEM, in particular. “That’s something I’m really passionate about because I think about how little of a female perspective is in STEM fields and how much it’s needed.”
If you’re interested in pursuing another path – STEM or otherwise – don’t ever step back because you feel like it’s too late. “The whole idea of this timeline – and it took me a long time to learn – you know, I have to do this by this time and I have to get married and have kids at this time and buy a house or do this job, all of that is like a figment of somebody’s created universe. It doesn’t exist,” she says. “Your whole life is about who you define yourself to be. Don’t compare your timeline to what you think it should be or what other people tell you it should be. That doesn’t exist, you have to set it for yourself. If you’re not happy in your job or you’re not happy wherever you find yourself, it’s never too late to sort of redefine what your life looks like.”
And as for what comes next, Stone is always looking out to see what’s the right fit. “I’ll be in the ER patching people up in the meantime,” she says.