by Laura Kammerer
A simple shower.
De’Aaricka Wilkes said she didn’t realize the power of nursing until she helped a frustrated elderly patient bathe as a high school nursing assistant student.
“You think I take showers every day,” she said. “But that day, (my patient) was more grateful than I’ve ever seen anybody be (from a shower). She said, ‘I’ve never felt so clean and relieved’ and just really opened up to us.
“As a nurse, I want people to talk to me and tell me their struggles and tell me their problems so I can try my best to help fix them. That day, that woman gave me confidence in what I was doing. That’s the day I knew I wanted to be a nurse.”
Wilkes, 20, of Rock Hill, is a junior nursing student at the University of South Carolina’s College of Nursing through the college’s distance education partnership with the USC Lancaster campus. When she’s not studying, Wilkes can be found helping other students across the Lancaster campus as an orientation leader.
Wilkes is a first-generation college student interested in pursuing her master’s degree in nursing as well as a Ph.D. or doctorate in nursing practice to help advance the profession.
“I’ve been given the opportunity to do something great with my life, and I have to give back,” she said. “It’s only right.”
Wilkes and senior Danielle Glass were recently honored as outstanding students by the South Carolina Nurses Foundation, with Wilkes receiving a $2,000 Nurses Care Scholarship (funded by a specialty license plate initiative) and Glass earning the $2,000 Julia Whitten scholarship.
Both students said the scholarship money has allowed them to ease up their working hours at part-time jobs to focus more attention on school.
Glass, 21, of Westminster, said she underestimated the intensity of Carolina’s nursing curriculum but never backed down from the challenge.
Instead she buckled down and taught herself new ways to study and manage her time. Now she shares those strategies — as well as her clinical knowledge — with other nursing students as a tutor at the Thomas Cooper Library.
Her peers at the Columbia campus aren’t the only ones she enjoys teaching. Glass realized she had a knack for patient and family education after a clinical rotation with an infant and toddler unit. There, she learned how to explain complex terms to parents and teach her patients through games and play, improvising on the fly if her young charges didn’t grasp what she was explaining.
After graduation, she said she hopes to work for several years in a pediatrics or obstetrics unit and then return to school to become a nurse practitioner.
“I want to be a nurse who’s compassionate, someone who’s open, who patients feel like they can confide in and speak to about anything,” she said. “And I want to just be someone who brightens my patient’s day and puts a smile on their face!”