For UNC Greensboro bachelor of science in nursing student Les Nichols, spring semester ended more than a month ago. But his education is put into practice every day at his job in the emergency department at High Point Medical Center where he is in the trenches fighting COVID-19.
It’s stressful, exhausting work. Some weeks Les pulls up to 60 hours. Like health systems across the country, High Point has gone to full-time personal protective equipment (PPE) for personnel while they are in the hospital. That means Les breathes through a mask for the duration of his shift.
“Wearing a mask for 40-plus hours a week is wrecking my body,” Les said. “My baseline heart rate has increased, and my blood pressure has risen, all since the start of COVID-19, which I can only determine to be a result of breathing in so much CO2.”
Despite the physical toll, Les says UNCG has prepared him well to meet the challenges of his current work environment.
“UNCG does a great job of getting us prepared through excellent SIM labs, clinical experiences, and—most importantly, in my opinion—having instructors that are still at bedside. Understanding what we are going through, not only as students but as health care workers, helps mold their teaching to be even more practical than just giving us book knowledge.”
A non-traditional student who is married with two children, Les never saw himself attending a large four-year university. He was enrolled in South University with the intention of graduating from there with his BSN, but bankruptcy forced the university to stop accepting students in the summer of 2018. His wife, Class of ’94, encouraged him to look at UNCG.
Les was hesitant. At the time, his daughter, Sara, was a nursing school student at UNCG. He was concerned that his classes from South University wouldn’t transfer, and he had heard UNCG’s School of Nursing was hard to get into. But not only was Les accepted, he also received the Brenda Welling Rechtine Scholarship.
The Rechtine Scholarship was established by family and friends to honor Brenda Welling Rechtine ’74, a BSN graduate who died of cancer in 1982. The scholarship is awarded to junior nursing majors who meet high academic standards, possess leadership skills, and show interest in fellow nursing students. Receiving the scholarship helped Les focus on his studies.
“Taking a portion of the financial burden away has allowed my mind to stay centered on my studies to make me a more successful student,” he said. “During these times especially, help with college is in great demand, and my goal is to one day pay it forward and provide a scholarship of my own to help someone like I have been helped.”
Now just two semesters away from graduating, Les envisions his future as an ICU nurse for heart patients or working in a travel nursing program. With a UNCG nursing degree and COVID-19 experience under his belt, he is well-positioned to follow his calling wherever it takes him.
Story by Chris Garton, Donor Relations
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