Perseverance led to degree for Kotzebue nurse
Last year, five students graduated from the University of Alaska Anchorage's distance-learning nursing program through the Chukchi Campus. Scott West, 29, of Kotzebue, was one of them. His passion for nursing runs deep; he's always appreciated the field and was inspired to enter it after he found himself facing an emergency situation with little access to help. The Sounder spoke with West about his career path.
Q: What inspired you to do this program, working toward a nursing degree?
A: "The reason why I chose the program here in Kotzebue is because it was my third and honestly, final time, because I have been trying to get into nursing since 2010. I first tried it in Fairbanks and I didn't have any luck. When I transferred schools down to Idaho, I tried down there and I had even worse luck than I did in Fairbanks. In the meantime, I had heard about the program here from a previous graduate and I attempted to get into the program. But, I was the only person who applied and they need a minimum of four people to do the program. So, I had no luck. A little bit later, when I was still down in Idaho, I gained my bachelor's degree and we attempted to have a petition signed to get the program jump-started earlier. But, it didn't go through. That was my second time that it didn't work out. Finally, the third and final time, we had just enough people."
Q: Tell me about your interest in nursing as a practice and where that stems from.
A: "I've always had really great experiences with nurses, since the time I was born. My experience with nurses here in Kotzebue has always been positive. I enjoy the care they've given. I enjoy the fact that they actually listened. At one point in time, I actually thought nurses were better than doctors and I still do, in some ways. I did not consider nursing as a career until I had an experience when I was serving in Guatemala as a missionary from 2008-2010. I had an experience in which I ended up saving a guy's life who had tried to kill himself. We kept this guy alive for a good five hours before he could get any kind of real help, because we were out in the middle of farming country. Throughout the whole experience, my friend and I were completely calm. We were collected. We had no idea what we were doing, but the fact that we remained calm in that situation (was important). After that experience, when I came home, I was trying to think, OK, what am I going to do with my life? I got this impression that I needed to go into the medical field. It's been quite the experience."
Q: When you started this program, what were some of your impressions of it? Was it what you had expected it to be or did you not really know what it was going to be like?
A: "I had no idea what was going to happen in this program. I knew that we were going to be doing distance education by video-conferencing. I had never done classes through video-conferencing before, so it was all completely brand new to me. When I was in class with (the other students) we had no idea what to expect. I didn't even know how the classes would be conducted. I'll be honest, it was a little frustrating because with distance education, we don't have the same interaction with our professors as we would have if were had been down at one of the universities. We didn't have that face-to-face interaction with our professors, so it was kind of disconnecting for us a lot of times, to try to interact with them, to ask questions, to get down into the nitty gritty of what we're learning so we can have a fuller, better understanding of it. We really wanted to know the subjects and when we started going into clinical too, we had to work harder and more independently in order for us to achieve the same goals and results as our peers who were in Anchorage. We had a really big challenge of being more self-sufficient and working together, as a group. I wouldn't have been able to do this by myself. All of us helped each other. We pulled each other through. We helped each other study. We built one another up when we had hard times. All five of us worked together until we passed."
Q: It sounds like your cohort really had to come together to push each other through the program. Do you feel that you came out stronger on the other end for that?
A: "I did come out stronger on the other end for the efforts of myself and my classmates. My classmate Tiffany, she really has that Type A personality, where she was very motivated to do things and take the initiative. That was very contagious for us. She studied hard and it ended up paying off for her. With Savannah, she was very positive and upbeat about the whole situation, so (bringing) that aspect into our group was also good. Shantelle was able to bring experience because she works over at Maniilaq, so she had a lot of base experience that she could bring in and offer to us. For Jeanne, she was the oldest member of the group and she had previous experience in the military and EMS (emergency medical services). She, in a way, was our comic relief. She had this very positive attitude about everything, she was hilarious, and a lot of times she had some very good, humorous distractions for us to just have good times to laugh and have fun. And then I was able to bring in not just my life experience — because I work as a firefighter and EMT (emergency medical technician) — to help out my classmates."
Q: For you, as a student, what were some of the most challenging parts of this program for you and then some of the most rewarding?
A: "The two most challenging parts for me had to do with the way that the exams were written and the way nurses take exams. The way nurses take exams is styled toward the NCLEX (National Council Licensure Examination) and that test is completely different from any test I've ever taken. When I was learning how to take tests the way a nurse does, I wasn't prepared for that. I've learned a lot in two years, thank goodness. The second most challenging part was honestly, being away from my family for clinicals. I hated that. I've got two young babies — they're three and two — and I hate being away from my family. When we had to go down for clinicals for two or three weeks at a time, it was hard because I was in another place, I was away from my family, and it was hard for me to be away from them. I think, in the end, even with those experiences that were not great, what I gained from it all was hard work. That was the most positive reward for me. Because our experience gained in this distance education program was so unique, all of us were able to appreciate what we were able to have. We actually valued the times we had for clinicals or when we were able to get with some other people who had access to other things we didn't have access to. To me, the most positive thing I got out of it was the experience and the hard work."
Q: It sounds like you hit a lot of hurdles along the way. At any time, did you think it wasn't working or did you consider giving up? If so, how did you decide to keep persevering?
A: "I will be honest, there were some points it was frustrating for me, (especially) trying to get into the program. I remained positive and thought there has to be one chance for me to get in and I just have to give it a shot. I had also applied (for another program) and it would have cost (thousands of dollars) to do that program. I sat there and I thought, I have (some) student debt, I have a baby, another on the way, I can't go into any more debt. So, I was hoping on Kotzebue because it was cheaper, I already work here, it was more convenient. I'm glad everything worked out because I kept my hopes up and gave it another try. The work and the waiting paid off."
Q: Now that you've come out the other end, how are you feeling? Tell me about where you're at at this point and what your next steps are.
A: "I'm very excited about what the future holds for me. I've worked very hard for this. We've all worked hard for this. Now, we're at the next step to where we're actually going to be able to be nurses — to do the thing that we love to do. I've got some interviews coming up in the Lower 48. I'm hoping for those, but, I know that if they don't go through, there's going to be a place where I can work as a nurse. I have no problem working here in Kotzebue because I'm from here. I like working here. I like the people here. I like the area. I like what I do. So, honestly, no matter what happens, I'm going to have a place to work. I'm going to be able to work as a nurse. I'm going to be able to provide for my family. I'm going to be able to help people. I'm going to be able to do the thing that I love to do. No matter what happens, everything is going to work out in the end."
Q: If you were talking to someone who encountered some of the challenges you did and were unsure whether or not to keep going, what advice would you give to them?
A: "The one piece of advice that I can give them that I have learned personally is go for it. Give it a try. If it works, it works. If it doesn't work, it doesn't work. At least you gave it a try. I had an experience when I was down in Idaho, where I had an opportunity to apply to a paramedicine program and I was very interested in it. But because I was a little timid or hesitant, I didn't make that decision. I didn't allow myself to take a chance and to take the door that opened up for me. I never got to find out if I could have gotten in or not. At the same time, I'm grateful for that experience because I learned from it. Don't hesitate in making a choice in where you take a chance. Take the chance. Go for it. And it's either going to work for you or not. Take the risk, go for it and see how everything plays out."
Q: Is there anything else you'd like to add that I didn't ask you about?
A: "I'm very happy to go on with my career as a nurse. I'm also excited that we have a new bunch of nurses that have started (the program). It's exciting (to know) that we worked through it and now they'll work through it. It's kind of a nice thing to see when your hard work pays off and it helps other people get through, as well."