In the Spotlight: Dasrine Gordon

In the Spotlight: Dasrine Gordon

Dasrine grew up in Jamaica and dreamed of going to college, but right after graduating from high school she was not able to afford it.

She moved to the United States and worked as an LPN for nine years before completing her RN. As she concluded her RN program, she determined she wouldn’t stop there. While researching BSN opportunities, she discovered the RN to MSN degree at Western Governors University, and decided it was the right opportunity for her. Around the same time she enrolled, she started a new job as a staff nurse and learned she was pregnant with her third child.

Dasrine and her husband were concerned that she was taking on too much at once.  She consulted with her faculty mentor at WGU and together they created a plan to help her balance work, school, and family responsibilities, so that she could be successful in all areas of her life. She was able to take advantage of the flexibility at WGU, learning at her own pace and on her own schedule. The journey was definitely not an easy one for Dasrine, and she and her family were required to make a lot of sacrifices. But three years after she started, Dasrine completed her degree and last month celebrated at commencement festivities in Orlando, Florida. The moment was surreal for her, especially considering at one point she questioned how she would even be able to afford to go to college. And now she’s well on her way and living her dream.

With a busy and often hectic schedule, one would think that she would take a bit of a break, but think again. Dasrine is pursuing her Nurse Practitioner License from South University, in her ongoing quest to be the best nurse that she can be. During the process, Dasrine has set an example for those who follow in her footsteps, including her colleagues and her children, now ages 22, 12, and 2.

Looking back on her experience, Dasrine has some advice for nurses, young and old, who are starting in the health care field: “Take things one step at a time. Don’t get discouraged by how long it will take to earn your degree, or how old you are, or how long you’ve been out of school. Simply do it while you have the chance and you’ll create many new opportunities for yourself that you’ll be glad you did.”


Meet Our Scholarship Winners SPECIAL EDITION

Meet Our Scholarship Winners SPECIAL EDITION

First-Prize Winner, Christal Leitch

Christal Leitch found out firsthand that 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 e-mail 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 in 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 United 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 last 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 and giving patients someone to lean on and to hold their hands,” says Leitch. “I want them to know ‘I’m here and you don’t have to be alone.’”

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 envisions a career as a certified nurse-midwife or a certified registered nurse anesthetist, although she realizes that could change. Noting that each stage of nursing school could reveal something that is a calling, 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.”

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.”


Runner-up, Karachi Egbuta

From a young age, Karachi Egbuta knew she wanted to be involved in health care. A bachelor’s degree in biology led her to different health care jobs after graduation, but it was seeing the interactions between nurses and patients at various jobs and volunteer positions that convinced her nursing was the career choice for her.

“Nurses interacted with patients from start to end,” says Egbuta, a student at Roberts Wesleyan College in Rochester, New York. “I saw how caring nurses are, how they comforted patients, and how they would advocate for their patients.” And seeing patients put so much faith and trust in the nurses—confiding in them in ways they might not with their physicians—impressed Egbuta.

“I just watched that, and I knew I wanted to do nursing,” she says. Her husband, an OB/GYN resident, opened her eyes to actually making a career out of nursing and encouraged her to follow that path.

Egbuta’s varied health care experience, through work, volunteerism, or her own travels, have all given her a global understanding of health care’s pressing and vast issues. She spent two years as a public health advocate with the Jacobi Medical Center researching and testing patients for HIV, and she continues to volunteer in an ER department where she sees all kinds of health care needs and situations. Her work impressed upon her the importance of patients’ health care education and information. Her own travels to visit family in Nigeria gave her insight into the discrepancies of global health care and fueled her passion to help others. “They talked about the hunger and the struggles, and it makes you realize everything you have here,” she says. “It’s all those little things they need that we have access to here.”

Egbuta, who expects to earn her nursing degree in May 2015, knew going back to school wasn’t going to be easy for her. She says she struggled getting her first degree, so she knew another degree would require all her focus, but she was pulled by nursing’s appeal.

“The beauty of nursing is that you can do anything,” says Egbuta. “I love that because I like a little bit of everything.” And with an infant daughter, she says nursing’s flexibility will help her manage work and family.

Egbuta already knows the challenges of trying to manage family and work. Her daughter was born during the toughest semester of nursing school yet. With the help of family, support from faculty, and a razor-sharp focus to finish nursing school, Egbuta had her baby on a Thursday and was back in class on Monday.

As a student, Egbuta sees that nursing is a challenging profession despite its rewards. “There’s lots that will test you in nursing,” she says. “The hardest is dealing with different patients’ moods. You want to do everything you can to make them happy.”

Egbuta finds compassion for their situation helps: “You have to put yourself in their shoes. No one wants to be in the hospital. They are just uncomfortable. So you have to be comforting to them even when they are in a bad mood.”

Egbuta plans to start in a medical-surgical unit upon graduation so she can get broad experience. “You learn about everything that has to do with medical conditions,” she says. And with dermatology and skin conditions being one of Egbuta’s top interests, she is likely to see patients with a range of skin issues. “Skin is the first barrier,” Egbuta explains.

Eventually, Egbuta can see furthering her education to become a family nurse practitioner, but until then she wants to just be the best nurse she can be.

“A lot of people know nursing is the hardest undergrad and a lot of people don’t make it,” Egbuta says. “I always say, ‘If I can do it, anyone can do it.’ You have to put in the time. It’s very intense, but they are trying to prepare you to be the best nurse you can be.”


Runner-up, Yvonne Shih

Yvonne Shih took a huge leap of faith when she moved from California to Boston to attend the Boston College (BC) William F. Connell School of Nursing. Tough as it was to leave family and friends behind in the area where she spent her whole life, Shih knew the move was going to bring her closer to her goal of becoming a nurse. “It’s not about seeing problems or obstacles but to just look ahead,” she explains.

Pursing a nursing career wasn’t something Shih even considered until her freshman year of high school. When a family member had health issues, a visiting nurse made a lasting impression when she simply said to Shih, “Maybe you should think about nursing.”

“I didn’t know it was even an option until she said it,” says Shih, who expects to graduate in May 2015. But, she says, her own personality traits of enjoying taking care of people and making others comfortable might have tipped her off.

“I definitely like the idea of being able to help people for the rest of my life,” Shih says. Making patients feel comfortable in an unfamiliar setting or situation that isn’t always easy appeals to her. And the variability of a nursing career, one where you can care for patients at their bedside in a hospital setting or out in the community, is something that she finds compelling. Events like school shootings or the Boston Marathon bombings, which happened so close to BC, have helped shape Shih’s future course. She is interested especially in psychiatric nursing. “With the school shootings, you can see how important being a psych nurse is and how it can benefit the community,” she says.

Despite the enormous time challenges of any nursing student, Shih fits in even more nursing-related activities outside the classroom. She is the president of the Massachusetts Student Nurses Association; she is a group leader at the Cornerstone Church of Boston; and she represents BC in several networking and leadership events. Of everything, Shih finds her own internal expectations to be the most daunting: “It’s just tough being hard on yourself, and making sure you are on top of everything and presenting yourself well. It’s hard to maintain a balance of everything.”

Shih finds incredible support in her family, friends, school, and her faith. And, she says, even pressure beyond just the typical school worries show her just a taste of what life after college might hold. But she has had incredible mentoring experiences working with BC faculty on an advanced study grant for her research on nurse staffing ratios in California and Massachusetts and a fellowship for an NIH-funded study on sleep apnea.

Although she says people might first notice her skin color or her features, being a minority isn’t a disadvantage as a nurse, even if some people might still believe that, she says. She would like to empower other minority nursing students to see their strengths. At BC, she has even led a faculty and student discussion on racism at the BC Connell School of Nursing Diversity Advisory Board Stand Against Racism event.

Shih believes in meeting others and being brave or bold enough to just ask people for help. When she first arrived at BC and wanted to find out how to combine studying nursing with the economics and business of health care, she simply asked a dean about it. The dean, in turn, put her in touch with several faculty who had the expertise she needed.

With one more year to go, Shih is thankful to her family and her school for the support they have given her. She follows the advice she would give to any nursing student who is trying to make a mark and to find others to guide them along their journey.

“You might not instantly click with everyone,” she says. “But don’t feel discouraged. And don’t ever give up.”

In the Spotlight

In the Spotlight

Marsha D. Thomas, RN


Marsha D. Thomas, RN, is a servant leader and an innovator. She has accomplished much in her lifetime: she was the first Upward Bound student at the University of Cincinnati/Xavier University; she was the first African American parish nurse in the city of Cincinnati; she received a grant from the Susan G. Komen Foundation to develop a faith-based play on breast cancer; and she is the current president of the Black Nurses Association of Greater Cincinnati.

Marsha Thomas

Marsha has created strong, positive programs to bring in disadvantaged students and take them through the nursing program to graduation. She has recruited nursing leaders from diverse backgrounds that will lay a strong foundation for future nurses within the Black Nurses Association. Thomas, along with Rev. Steven K. Wheeler, MSN, RN, will institute a citywide graduation celebration for any/all minority students who graduated from any nursing school in 2013.

Marsha is a very passionate person, and she is constantly challenging the community to change health outcomes for the disadvantaged. She is the project manager for her church at a clinic that is currently under construction in Benin, West Africa, to help women and children. Marsha has three grown children and three grandchildren. She is truly a bright light in a very dark world.

What makes Marsha even more remarkable is that she has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and has been undergoing radiation treatment as well. But she has not allowed her disability to stand in the way of her service to others. At the community graduation celebration of nurses, you could witness firsthand the handiwork of this great lady. One graduating nurse had flunked out of several schools, and this student was about ready to throw in the towel on her dreams. Someone recommended that she go and speak with Marsha Thomas. After speaking with Marsha, this student was connected with tutors and received the necessary help to make it through the program. Marsha held on to this student all the way through the nursing program, and that night everyone witnessed the success story that Ms. Thomas helped to orchestrate. Might I add that this young lady had one eye. Marsha had the student focus on her ability and not her disability. As a result of Marsha’s dedication to the field of nursing and to humanity, Impact Christian Ministries has designed an award to be given away on a yearly basis in honor of this beautiful young lady. The award will be given to an outstanding individual nurse. Attached to the award will be $1,000 and an award that will be designed by local artist Jon Carter. Nomination forms will go out around the country so that this living legend will not be forgotten but emulated for generations to come. The first annual “Citywide Graduation Celebration” can be seen at

Is there a nurse in your life who inspires you? Nominate him or her to be featured in our new “In the Spotlight” series by sending an e-mail to [email protected]. Or visit our blog at to learn about outstanding nurses across the country making a difference.


Lifting Up the Homeless

Lifting Up the Homeless

Although we may not have personal experience with homelessness, as nurses we can easily imagine the way in which life might unravel—a collapsing economy, long-term unemployment, a series of missed mortgage payments—leading to a life on the street, in a car, or at a shelter. Nurses are privileged to be in a position to help people get back on their feet and take the necessary steps toward a more secure future. As we enter our fifth year since the start of the Great Recession, here are what three exemplary nurses have to say about caring for one of our most vulnerable populations.

Young Nurse Focuses on Caring for Homeless

Amy Hardy, RN, BSN, nurse manager at Old Town Clinic
Amy Hardy is a nurse manager at Old Town Clinic in Portland, Oregon, a site serving 3,000 primary care patients a year as part of Central City Concern (CCC). “Our agency’s mission is to end homelessness and support clients to self-sufficiency,” Hardy explains.

The population the clinic serves is diverse, and there is a significant minority segment. “We have Spanish-speaking support staff and CCC offers special programs, like Puentes, to meet the behavioral health needs of Latinos,” she says.

There’s been an increase in homeless women and family households. “It’s hard to find shelters for women,” says Hardy. “CCC has a program that allows women to keep their children and not give them up during substance abuse treatment. It also operates housing for families in recovery but still, more is needed.”

A wider definition of homelessness includes the “precariously housed,” explains Hardy. “These are folks who suffer from generational poverty, and don’t have their own place for a long period of time. They may be doubling up, and staying with family and friends—that’s especially common in the Latino community—as well as on the streets or in shelters.”

“So many of our clients are high emergency department utilizers,” says Hardy. “We work with area hospitals to coordinate care for clients.” Programs serve to provide respite or short-term residential care for patients after hospital discharge.

“As nurses, we have the power to do a lot for underserved populations,” Hardy says. “Keep yourself from making judgments, because these clients have had really challenging lives. It’s an opportunity to provide good quality care for people who haven’t received it in the past. Like you and me, they’re just trying to get through the day.”

Nurse Pioneers Homeless Care Programs

Dorothy L. Powell, RN, EdD, FAAN, Associate Dean of the Office of Global and Community Health Initiatives in the School of Nursing at Duke University

Dr. Dorothy Powell first became involved with caring for the homeless in Washington, DC, in the early 80’s at leading advocate Mitch Snyder’s shelter, which was then the largest in the United States. Soon after, she led the development of a health care unit at the 2nd & D Street Shelter, another large facility. “Nurses provided respite care 24/7/12, and we collaborated with persons in the homeless community,” she says.

Powell empowered homeless individuals through a nationally lauded program, Nursing Careers for Homeless People, in the early 1990’s. “We identified homeless people who would benefit from being nursing assistants, and we prepared them to work along with other staff people,” she says.

Participants set an ambitious goal: Prepare for a better job so as to move from a shelter to transitional housing. Nearly 90 individuals achieved that target.

“We had many success stories. Over 75% finished the three-month Pre-Admissions Readiness Program, passed the nursing assistant exam, and got jobs. A third went on to more education at the collegiate level, usually in nursing. Some became RNs, some finished at the top of their nursing class—one even went into a master’s program,” she adds.

At Duke University, she developed a community service program called Raising Health, Raising Hope. “The message is that despite your vulnerability and homelessness, if the status of one’s health can be improved, it can give hope to move forward with other aspects of their lives,” explains Powell.

Powell has also gone beyond her community of Durham, North Carolina, and is now working globally to address health disparities.

Nurse’s Mission Changes Lives in Birmingham

Cindy Underwood, RN, operating room nurse at St. Vincent’s East and founder of Changed Lives Medical Clinic

Cindy Underwood, along with a few colleagues from St. Vincent’s East, has provided medical care to the homeless people of Birmingham, Alabama, for a dozen years at a monthly outdoor clinic.

“I realized that I can’t care for the homeless or indigent in the same way as the insured,” she says. “I have to think and work outside the normal box.” Health care resources that are usually taken for granted—equipment, lab work, and sanitation—are absent. “You may want to get a urinalysis, but you’re in an area where they can’t go to the bathroom,” she adds.

Underwood also learns about each patient’s living situation. “You can’t assume they’re going home to a house with electricity—maybe they don’t have running water. If a homeless patient is suffering from pneumonia and it’s winter, you may have to find a shelter,” she adds.

The clinic runs every fourth Tuesday night from 6-8 p.m. under a viaduct downtown. “We see 100 to 125 people each month, and for 85%, we’re their primary care providers. We are their doctors and their pharmacists.” The clinic also provides free over-the-counter medications, or a month’s supply of prescription drugs, with refills available at return visits.

Underwood works a full-time job and cares for a family, in addition to running the monthly clinic. Why does she do it? “It’s a faith thing. I’m a Christian and God truly told me ‘you could do so much more for them,’” she explains. “It started with bringing Band-Aids in the back of my station wagon. Then it grew into a clinic. Even if it is just Tylenol or multivitamins, they’re so excited, it makes it worth it.”

Many patients are regulars with chronic or complex conditions. “We take the pressure off hospital emergency rooms,” she says. Common health conditions are high blood pressure, high blood sugar, athlete’s foot, and respiratory conditions, which are exacerbated by living on the streets or in abandoned buildings.

Sometimes, a trip to the ER can’t be avoided. “One homeless lady came to the clinic at night during a bad winter. She had frostbite on her toes, and we saw her to the hospital. The doctor said she would have lost toes if she had not come in for treatment,” she recalls.

Don’t be afraid to step outside of the doctor’s office or hospital to where people desperately need help, advises Underwood. “Don’t worry about losing your license; it’s a charitable act,” she says. “If you do it with a pure heart, there’s not any case where a judge has ruled against it.”

If you would like to start a similar clinic in your community, email Cindy Underwood at [email protected].