Denise Watson wanted to be a nurse from the time she was very young. To get there, she has pushed through many challenges including failing a class and moving to a new city where she knew no one—with a 5-year-old son and another child on the way.
A native of Panama, Denise moved to the United States when she was 11. Her father was in the Army so the family moved frequently. At one point, Denise lived in San Diego before heading to Indiana with her mom. With nursing school in her sights, Denise worked as a medical assistant for eight years in Indiana.
Ready for the next step, she started nursing school in Indiana before moving to Edwardsville, Illinois, where she began exploring nursing schools in the St. Louis area.
"Everyone kept telling me about Goldfarb School of Nursing," Denise says. She enrolled in January 2021 as an Upper-Division student and will graduate in December.
"I appreciate the small class sizes and opportunities at Goldfarb," she says. "I didn't know anyone in St. Louis and now I've met so many people. I love the connection to BJC HealthCare hospitals. Not all nursing schools have those hospital connections."
Jumping In With Both Feet
Denise wasted no time in getting involved at Goldfarb. She is the Student Council president, the Student Nursing Association vice president, the Duncan campus representative for Students Promoting Diversity group, and Families Supporting Students group treasurer.
"Being part of these clubs has helped my leadership skills flourish and I've been able to learn how to multi-task," Denise says. "I like being involved and helping the community."
Denise was also chosen to be a Goldfarb Student Ambassador. "It was exciting to be chosen. I'm glad to use the platform to be a voice for students."
As a working student and a mother of an active 7-year-old and a 2-year-old, Denise has to budget her time carefully. Both children play soccer so she relies on her planner and notes in her phone to keep her on track.
"My day starts and ends busy and it's challenging to find study time," she says. "I try to relisten to lectures while my son is playing soccer or when I walk with my daughter on the track I listen to lectures and talk to her about what I'm learning. It helps to recite things with her."
In addition to her role as a student and mother, Denise was a PRN at BJC's Alton Memorial Hospital but recently transferred to Barnes-Jewish Hospital where she works 18 hours every two weeks as a student nurse tech in the cardiovascular ICU—an opportunity that came about after Denise tripped a bit in nursing school.
Life Happens, Doors Open
Although Denise is a bright, hard-working student, she struggled through one class and had to repeat it. "Life happens," she says. "I was sad and depressed about failing but you have to keep pushing through, put it in the past and work to do better moving forward. Everything happens for a reason and it turns out a great opportunity came up for me after that."
The opportunity was a chance to shadow in the cardiovascular ICU at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. The experience has turned into a full-time job at the hospital after her December graduation.
While some students may have given up after failing a class, Denise mustered strength and sought help from all the resources available at Goldfarb.
"I saw a change after I met with my teachers, tutors, peer leaders and mentors at Goldfarb," she says. "Those resources are there for a reason and are so important. Not all nursing schools offer these resources for students and I was determined to use the heck out of them. This semester, I'm acing my exams."
Denise learned valuable lessons from her experience.
"I learned to never give up," she says. "I was so embarrassed that I failed. I thought no one else had done that but then I realized it's because no one talks about it. I made it into nursing school so I'm smart enough to make it. It's hard but you have to shake it off and figure out how to do better. My kids encouraged me and I needed to do this for them. Now we do our homework together. It was a teaching moment for all of us."
Looking at the future, Denise plans to work for at least two years before she applies to become a CRNA (Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist). She is also considering joining the Goldfarb Alumni Association after graduation.
"I want to continue to be involved in the school," she says. "The nursing program isn't easy—it's fast and furious—but it's doable. I want to give back because I had such a great experience at Goldfarb and one day I want to help another student who may be getting discouraged."
3 Nursing School Survival Tips from Denise
1. Schedule "me time." Self-care is vital, especially to deal with the stresses of school and life. Take time to do what you love, breathe and recharge. Get a mani/pedi or something else that makes you feel more confident and relaxed.
2. Never give up. When you stumble it's OK. Shake it off, focus on the now, and look at what you can do to move forward and do better.
3. Be proactive. If something is slacking, such as good study habits, fix it right away before it gets worse. Don't wait until the last term to ask for help. Use the many available resources at Goldfarb.