WCU Alumni Spotlight: Leslie Jackson, BSN ’20

Leslie Jackson was part of the first West Coast University cohort affected by the coronavirus pandemic. A nursing student at the Dallas campus, she was only months away from her graduation and her NCLEX exam when classes and clinicals moved to a virtual environment.

“I actually lived in an Airbnb because I was still working the frontlines and my parents are getting older,” Jackson said. “So, I lived in an Airbnb while finishing school and studying for my NCLEX. That was about four, five months of doing that.”

Not only did this cohort have to adjust to online classes, but many healthcare organizations froze hiring right around the time of their graduation.

“I actually got hired in February before I graduated,” Jackson said. “Around April, lots of hospitals were sending out notifications that they were delaying start dates, and my hospital was one of them. So I was like, ‘What do I do? I’ve said no to three other hospitals.’”

I’ve never studied so hard and I’ve never poured so much of my heart and soul into every single class. This information doesn’t come easily. You can’t hear it once and regurgitate it because it all builds on each other. Everything that you’ve learned is to save someone’s life.

Jackson made it work. With the assistance of Career Services specialist Lindsey Peacher, she found a position as a pediatric home health nurse while still keeping her part-time role as a technician in the ER. The ER job meant she was still on the frontlines while the pandemic developed in Dallas.

“I think our curve was a little later than every else’s, so our numbers were kind of steadying, but we were still very short-staffed, and our patients were very sick,” Jackson said. “I was so excited to start. I kind of felt helpless working as a tech in the ER knowing that I could do so much more.”

Jackson’s hospital ended its hiring freeze, and she was able to start her residency in September. She is now a full-time registered nurse at the same hospital where she’d been working as an ER technician.

“Working in the ER, I’m a completely different person. I’m super serious, which is not how I am. I’m down to business. I’m not anxious and I just feel like a superhero, but we see awful things every single day. Especially seeing sudden deaths of young people and with COVID, seeing people die alone, not being able to be with their families,” Jackson said.

Despite the difficult moments in the ER, Jackson has found ways to stay strong, from making time to work out regularly to taking the time she needs to feel grounded. She has been able to provide support not just to her patients, but to their loved ones.

“I believe holistic care doesn’t end when the patient dies. It’s whoever is there when they pass away, too. Like yes, you’re sad, but be as strong as you can for them,” she said. “Getting the family what they need, calling the chaplain, it kind of takes a little weight off of your shoulders.”

How did the BSN program at WCU-Dallas help prepare you for the reality of nursing?

I like to think of myself as a pretty great student. I took 30 credit hours at my other undergrad because I was double majoring. Got in and out in under two years with two bachelors. Core nursing classes are an entirely different beast.

I’ve never studied so hard and I’ve never poured so much of my heart and soul into every single class. This information doesn’t come easily. You can’t hear it once and regurgitate it because it all builds on each other. Everything that you’ve learned is to save someone’s life.

What was your experience with the simulation labs?

As someone who was working in the ER at that time, that was the most realistic set-up of a hospital room that I have ever seen. It really does help you with your scanning medications and double verification. For people who have not stepped foot in a hospital setting at all, that is the most comfortable you can get within a safe space.

WCU really puts a lot of time and effort into their simulations. Going back, it would be a deciding factor in picking WCU over any other school.

What was the first mistake you made in Sim Lab?

Our patient was in a critical situation. I was drawing up medication and when I took off the blunt needle, I put it on the table without capping it. So that was just a safety issue for me, for everyone around me and for any family members who were in the room. I’ll never forget that. The times when you make a mistake in Sim Lab — you’ll never make that mistake again.

You also had the opportunity to participate in our Global Public Health program in Argentina*. How was that?

That experience is something I still talk about today. I have the anniversary on my calendar, and I talk to the people that I went with.

Being able to work with people there doing simple, basic health assessments — checking blood sugar and checking blood pressure, teaching them about things we take for granted — it made me realize why I became a nurse. There are people like that right here down the street in our hometown who are lacking basic access to healthcare. It’s shaped how I practice nursing now. Everyone who comes in, just start on their level. Educate them the entire time they’re there so that, hopefully, when they go home, they can share that information with their family. They can take that information and turn their entire life around.

I wanted a master’s in public health just because I thought it sounded cool. Now, just knowing that there’s so much out there that we can do as nurses in our community and abroad, I can’t wait to go back.

What advice would you give to graduating nursing students?

I would apply to every single specialty that you’re interested in, in every single hospital. Having your cover letter and resume prepares so that, as soon as they’re open, you can apply. If they’re on a complete hiring freeze, I would do any home health agency. They’re usually still hiring and they’ll put you with one patient for the majority of the time. I know people from my cohort that are still doing that here in Dallas.

Lots of people are losing hope, but you didn’t come this far to only come this far. If your dream is to work in an ICU, apply to every single ICU that is available.

*For standards of eligibility, including required program enrollment, minimum GPA and academic standing visit: westcoastuniversity.edu/international-education

WCU provides career guidance and assistance but cannot guarantee employment. The views and opinions expressed are those of the individuals and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs or position of the school or of any instructor or student.