Christal Leitch, this year's Minority Nurse Magazine Scholarship first-place winner, found out the biggest surprises often come when your mind is focused elsewhere.
“I was so surprised,” she says, laughing, noting that she almost didn't open the email notifying her of her win right away.
Leitch, who begins her nursing school studies at the Georgia Baptist College of Nursing at Mercer University this fall, came to nursing a roundabout way. “My mom is a nurse,” she says, “but that was never one of my things. I wanted to work in an office 9 to 5.”
In 2006, Leitch realized she wanted to change careers. Her ill mother-in-law came to stay, and Leitch nursed her and cared for her. “It was so rewarding,” says Leitch. “I thought, 'This is what I want to do.'”
Leitch immigrated to the United States from Trinidad and Tobago Islands in the 1980s, and says her primary goal was to earn a college degree and return back home. But being unfamiliar with the accreditation process in the States led her to get a degree in office technology in 1996 from a school that had state, but not national, accreditation.
By the time nursing came on her radar, Leitch had already started a family and worked for a variety of Fortune 500 companies. But, she says, something was missing from her career, and she now realizes it was a mismatch between her interests and her job. “I am naturally a very caring person, and I didn't realize that that's where I'm most comfortable.”
In 2009, when she decided to return to school for a nursing degree, she had to begin taking her prerequisite classes all over again. But on the same day she started classes, she also started a job as a medical assistant for a group of vascular surgeons, and she knew she was on the right path.
In earning her prerequisite classes for nursing, Leitch qualified for a bachelor's in psychology, which she earned in May. Nursing school will be challenging, but Leitch is excited. She's confident that her journey will be smoothed by her strong support system of family and friends.
“My focus will be on trying to keep patients comfortable,” says Leitch, “and giving patients someone to lean on and to hold their hands. I want them to know 'I'm here and you don't have to be alone,'” she says.
Leitch says in those particularly stressful times, a nurse is essential. “In times of distress, I want them to know someone is there to comfort them,” she says.
Leitch says she envisions a career as a certified nurse midwife or a certified nurse anesthesiologist, although she realizes that could change. Noting that each stage of nursing school could reveal something that is a calling, she says she is especially looking forward to the labor and delivery training.
Eventually, she would like to work for an organization like Doctors Without Borders. “It's one of the first things I'll do when I get my degree,” she says. “I am so ready to sign up.”
And despite coming to nursing a little later than most, Leitch is comfortable knowing she is finally where she belongs. “When my aunt heard I was going to nursing school she said, 'It's about time,'” Leitch says laughing. “I just never thought about it and then it just dawned on me.”
Although her journey to nursing is long, Leitch says she lives and models what she tells her sons – failure is not an option. “Your hard work will pay off in the end,” she says. “Nothing comes easy, but at the end of the day, no one can take your education away from you.”