As a child, LaQuitta Wilkins, RN and Miss Black Alabama USA 2016, often tagged along with her mom as she made her home health care nursing rounds. On days when her asthma symptoms made her feel ill, Wilkins couldn’t go to school, but couldn’t stay home either. But following her mom around did more than just let her mom keep an eye on her. Watching her mom made her realize nursing was the career for her.
“I would go with her and see how she interacted with her patients, and I loved that compassion,” says Wilkins. “I loved how they all loved her.” Wilkins says the opportunity to see her mom at work spurred her to seek out a nursing career. “From that moment I knew I wanted to make a lasting impact on my patients and their families,” she says.
Now a traveling pediatric intensive care nurse who is using her current title as Miss Black Alabama USA 2016 to give voice to the importance of healthy habits, Wilkins first joined a nursing student program through her high school where she could shadow nurses on the job and see what working in a hospital was really like. She had to keep high grades to participate and had to learn how to balance all the other demands of high school.
“It prepared me for nursing school,” says Wilkins with a laugh. Wilkins transferred into Belmont University as a sophomore when she realized she wanted a full nursing program. The challenging program was even harder for Wilkins as she also played collegiate basketball for her school. “I always studied during the bus rides back to school from the games,” she says. Wilkins earned her BS in nursing in 2012 and says she never meant to get into pediatric care.
“I told my class, ‘I am not going to be a pediatric nurse,’” she says, remembering that labor and delivery was her top choice. But she says her clinicals in pediatrics surprised her. “It was my first time working with kids and I just loved interacting with them,” she says. “You really have two patients – the parents and the kids.”
When a pediatric spot opened, she applied and found her connection with the age group has only strengthened. “My heart just grew with the kids,” she says. Knowing she can take good care of them and receiving the trust and love back from her patients pleased her. One of her favorite parts of treating kids is when she is able to see them healthier than when they left. “The best feeling as an ICU nurse is when you are taking care of critically ill patients and they become well enough to get transferred to a step down unit,” she says. “Some patients come back just to thank you or some write thank you letters. Just knowing you are appreciated brings joys to my heart reassuring me that God placed me into the right career field.”
When she won the title of Miss Black Alabama USA 2016, Wilkins knew she would use the opportunity to talk about health issues. “My platform is ‘the heart of the matter,’” she says. Focusing on many diseases that affect the heart like hypertension and obesity and also those that have major but more silent impact like diabetes and depression, Wilkins wants people to know small changes can make a difference in their heart health.
“Awareness can decrease the chances of people dying of heart disease,” she says.
While she is enjoying working as a travel nurse, she does have clear goals she is working toward. Eventually, Wilkins plans to become a nurse anesthetist, so she plans to head back to school to reach that goal. First, she will work in an adult ICU to gain the work experience she will need and increase her chances of being accepted into a program.
Wilkins says she wants people to hear her positive message. “Even when people told me I couldn’t do nursing school and basketball, I did,” she says. “You can do it even if you face adversity. If you have a positive mindset you can achieve anything.”