For This UNCG Father-Daughter Nursing Duo, Caring Runs In The Family
Grit. Stamina. A sense of humor. The ability to control your emotions. These are family characteristics shared by Les and Sara Nichols, a father/daughter team currently in the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program at UNC Greensboro. They also happen to be traits that help Les and Sara outside of school, where they serve together in the emergency unit at High Point Medical Center. Here, the Nicholses apply what they have learned in the classroom.
As with many in the health care field, Sara and Les are currently on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19. Their workload at the hospital has increased, and some of their simulation labs have been temporarily delayed during UNCG’s transition to online and social distancing. But the Nicholses have faced obstacles before, and just as in the past, they are confident their determination will see them through. They are well-prepared, and they are together.
Les and Sara have always had each other’s backs—on the hospital floor as well as in the classroom, at clinicals and during marathon study sessions. But similarities aside, each of them brings their own distinctive experiences and skill sets. Les has many years’ experience in various fields, and he can also draw on the experience of being a parent. Sara has a fresh perspective and right-brain sensibilities. “I know his strengths and weaknesses, and he knows mine,” says Sara. “We can help each other out.”
Les didn’t always know he’d be a nurse. He spent four years in commercial photography before spending time as an electrician and construction project manager. But losing a close friend to ALS in 2006 changed his life. Having served as his friend’s personal caretaker during those final months, Les realized he was built for a career in health care. And today, he’s one year away from graduating with a BSN.
Sara, meanwhile, knew early on that she wanted to be a nurse. She took advanced career preparation courses in high school that were geared toward health care and went straight into the BSN program at UNCG. She will graduate this May.
Les and Sara aren’t the first family members to go through nursing training together at UNCG, which is nationally ranked in its Master of Science in Nursing (#47), Doctor of Nursing Practice (#48), and Online Master’s in Nursing programs (#14). Les says that makes sense to him, because the job requires a certain mentality that seems to be passed down through the family tree.
“If you have that compassion and that willingness to take care of another person and put yourself last, then it’s kind of a trait that does seem to be passed down from generation to generation,” says Les.
For Les, it was the life-changing loss of his friend that brought him to the field. Meanwhile, Sara was inspired by her dad. Like many kids, she hated going to the doctor. As she grew older, however, seeing how her dad cared for patients—the way in which he was deeply invested in looking after others—had a lasting effect on her.
“As soon as you see it from a provider standpoint—when you witness what’s really going on—I feel like you can’t help but be interested in how it all works,” she says. “Once you see it from someone else’s standpoint, you either love it or you hate it. And if you love it, you’re going to go all in.”
Going to school and working together has only deepened Les and Sara’s bond. “Being in nursing school with her has definitely been the highlight of my life,” Les says. “I never dreamed when I was holding her as a baby that I would be in school with her one day, to be able to share this experience and go down this road with her.”
Sara is a year ahead of her dad in the nursing program, which means that theoretically, she’s the senior member of the dad-and-daughter team. She says she offers him advice about getting through nursing school. Les, meanwhile, takes his daughter’s tips in good humor.
“It’s going to get frustrating at times,” she says. “You’ll have your own way of doing things. Just stick with the program, because what you’re learning is good, and it’s going to be so beneficial.”
In return, Les offers fatherly wisdom. “The number one thing I can say—especially if you stay in the emergency ward—is to check your feelings at the door. Understand that for everybody who comes in, there’s a backstory. Understanding that helps you to be a better nurse.”
And he has more wisdom to share: Adhere to what you’ve been taught at nursing school. Work on your therapeutic communication. Be good and true to everyone. Avoid burnout.
As for what makes a good nurse, Les draws upon his many years of bedside experience. And, surprisingly, his experience working as an electrician comes in handy too. It’s all about the ability to comprehend systems and be aware of how things are connected.
“Understanding and knowing the technical side of what we do, and then being able to blend it with compassion and empathy, is key. Heartfelt care is what I think truly makes a good nurse, and you’ve got to be able to bridge those things together,” Les says.
Les and Sara already have their finger on the pulse of post-graduation opportunities. For Les, the short-term plan is to work with heart patients. “I would like to be in an intensive care unit for heart patients,” says Les. “The other thing I’d like to get into is travel nursing. The nursing shortage is becoming such a huge problem, but there’s this beautiful entity called travel nursing, where you can travel to different systems across the country to work. I would go anywhere that is in need of emergency ward nurses.”
Sara has a similar mindset. The more immediate goal is to get post-graduation experience as a nurse in an emergency ward. But her eyes, too, are set on adventure.
“I have a heart for the world,” Sara says. Ultimately, she wants to be a nurse on a global emergency relief team, going into tragedies and disaster sites to perform first aid, helping the people that lose everything. She says, “while everybody else is leaving and evacuating, I want to be on the team that goes in.”