Skip to main content

Teen nursing student set to graduate with BSN before she can even drive

Elliana Tenenbaum on track to be youngest nursing grad ever at ASU

student listening to other student's heartbeat
July 08, 2022

Editor’s note: This story is featured in the 2022 year in review.

Move over Doogie Howser, M.D. — we’ve got the real deal here.

Her name is Elliana Tenenbaum, a 15-year-old California native who has chosen Arizona State University to pursue her Bachelor of Science in nursing at Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation, and she’s not even old enough to drive.

She will graduate with her BSN next summer and will turn 16 in the fall, making her the youngest nursing student graduate ever at ASU.

In 2009, ASU had a student graduate at age 17, but this is truly unique, says Judith Karshmer, dean of the Edson College.

“The fact that Elliana has found her passion in nursing and is pursuing it at this level already is really impressive," Karshmer said. "Our program at Edson College is quite rigorous in order to adequately prepare future nurses for the workforce. Her ability to handle the coursework and clinical experiences at such a young age is extraordinary and truly sets her apart. I’m just glad she picked us to earn her BSN and can’t wait to see all that she accomplishes in the future.”

Students listening to lecture in classroom

15-year-old Ellie Tenenbaum listens to a lecture in NUR 336 Experiential Learning. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

Tenenbaum says she discovered her passion to heal people at an early age by shadowing her father.

“I've always had a calling to heal people and I grew up with my dad as a medical doctor. ... I think I was 4 when I did my first shot and 8 when I did my first thyroid ultrasound,” she said.

Greatness runs in the family. Her mother, Maya, has her PhD, has taught statistics and political science, and continues her love of learning by taking postdoctoral classes. She says her daughter had a “deliberate plan,” and even mapped out her journey to success using charts to keep track of her credits and progress. In all, she says about 300 emails were sent back and forth between her daughter and her counselor.

“It’s really gratifying as a parent to see a child living up to their full potential and finding their gifts and giving back to the world,” Maya said.

Elliana Tenenbaum comes from a family of five, including a brother who attends the University of Arizona. Yet she chose ASU because of the accelerated nursing program, and has found Edson professors to be exceptional and her fellow students to be quite supportive.

“They have accepted me as one of their peers and it’s been a great experience,” Tenenbaum said.

She sped through her high school years and took college credit courses while at El Camino High School at Ventura College in Ventura, California. And while she is incredibly smart, she said she did find some of her anatomy and physiology courses to be challenging at times.

The program she is enrolled in now is even more intense. It involves a rigorous 16-month accelerated program designed to give cohorts of nursing students real-life experience by working with patients, doctors and nurses in local hospitals and clinics.

students working on a nursing manikin

15-year-old Ellie Tenenbaum (front left) and others work with a nursing mannequin in NUR 336 Experiential Learning. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

“I am looking forward to working with more at-risk populations because there’s a greater responsibility there and they really need it,” said Tenenbaum, who has begun clinicals at the Justa Center and John C. Lincoln Memorial Hospital in Phoenix.

So, what’s next for this real-life Doogie Howser? While she can legally practice nursing in Arizona once she passes her state board exam, known as the NCLEX-RN, she plans to continue her education and pursue a master's degree and a doctorate in nursing, which is a step beyond a nurse practitioner. She has an interest in acute care and trauma but would also like to explore other options that might allow her to see the world, such as travel nursing.

She advises others to be open-minded and to “not limit people by their age, and recognize people as individuals and not as numbers, because everyone is different and learns at different paces"

She also says, "If you have an interest in something, find a way to pursue it.”

As for that driver’s license, well, she’s also enrolled in driver’s education courses, too, and will take a stab at that shortly after graduating college. But first things first.

Top photo: Fourth-year nursing students Nikki Vu (left) and 15-year-old Ellie Tenenbaum listen to each others' heart rates in their NUR 336 Experiential Learning course on Thursday, June 23, at the Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation's Mercado facility. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

More Health and medicine


Woman wearing a maroon cap and gown in an audience of similarly dressed people, smiling next to another woman.

Faculty mentor guides 3-time ASU alum to career in health law

Though she began her academic career at Arizona State University with designs of becoming a doctor, the relationship Mary Saxon formed with her health care disparities course instructor — who also…

Students in a classroom building air filters.

New research: DIY air filters work better than commercial HEPA filters for fraction of cost

We spend about 90% of our time indoors, breathing in air that can contain particulate matter like dust, wildfire smoke, volatile organic compounds, carbon dioxide and exhaled aerosols that may…

Doctor listening to a woman's heartbeat with a stethoscope.

$5M grant to allow ASU to help train medical professionals in areas of critical need

The College of Health Solutions at Arizona State University has been awarded a $5 million grant from the Department of Health and Human Services’ Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality to launch…