Southeast Graduate Nursing Student Shares Academic, Career Experiences with Board of Regents


Southeast Missouri State University nursing graduate student Will Harris of Jackson, Missouri, told the Southeast Board of Regents today that Southeast has made it possible for him to launch and enhance his career in nursing.

Harris is a second-year graduate student currently pursuing a Master of Science in Nursing, Family Nurse Practitioner, and is a 2011 Southeast alumnus with double majors in nursing and Spanish.

Choosing a nursing program that was affordable and dedicated to preparing nursing students with expert knowledge and skill sets ready to take on difficult patients in an evolving healthcare system was important to Harris, and Southeast was twice the perfect fit for him, he said.

“I wanted to attend a Bachelor of Science in Nursing program to better help me provide nursing care,” he said. “Southeast’s nursing program, by far, was the hardest undertaking I have ever made. However, I have been rewarded by a career as a Registered Nurse, and, over the years, I have been present for different challenges with patients throughout the lifespan from precipitate deliveries to consoling families of dying loved ones. Every patient provides me the opportunity to use my critical thinking skills that were formed and strengthened by the nursing program at Southeast.”

While pursuing his undergraduate degree in nursing, he found new opportunities to also earn a degree in Spanish that would enhance his career as a nurse and provide better care to patients whose first language is Spanish.

“I was able to study abroad in both Mexico and Spain, and these educational opportunities helped me learn a second language from native speakers which I still use today to care for my patients,” Harris said. “I have discovered, over the years, that there are several barriers to seeking healthcare currently. One such barrier is language and communication. Care can be avoided or delayed if a patient can’t explain their symptoms and provide a thorough health history. Now, as a Registered Nurse, I can ensure that all patients seeking care are treated with dignity, respect and with the highest quality of healthcare possible.”

After graduating from Southeast in 2011 and serving eight years as a Registered Nurse in a local hospital’s emergency room, Harris was inspired to become a Family Nurse Practitioner so he could help more people throughout the southeast Missouri region.

“There are a lot of low income areas in southeast Missouri that could greatly benefit from nurse practitioners, and I wanted to better serve the area by providing quality healthcare services to those in need who may not have access to a primary care physician, and who want to avoid the high cost of a visit to the emergency room,” Harris said. “Access to affordable healthcare is highly important, and I want to work more closely with patients to achieve their individual health and wellness goals.”

When deciding where to pursue his graduate degree, Harris said he knew he could return to his alma mater.

“As an undergraduate student, I could tell the faculty and instructors were extremely knowledgeable, passionate about learning, and were dedicated to educating future nurses and nurse practitioners,” he said. “Because of the high quality of educators and the Department of Nursing’s recently renovated facilities in (the Rosemary Berkel) Crisp Hall (of Nursing), Southeast was the clear choice for advancing my education.”

Returning to the University as a non-traditional student has been rewarding both personally and professionally for Harris.

“Being able to work with undergraduate nursing students as a Graduate Assistant has been one of the greatest highlights so far as a Southeast graduate student,” he said. “As a Graduate Assistant, I get to share my expertise as a Registered Nurse with the undergraduate nursing students. My hope is that they dedicate themselves to their studies and become future leaders in whatever avenue of nursing they pursue.

“I have learned about the role of the Family Nurse Practitioner role by directly observing local providers in the area,” he said. “I have also been able to complete more than 360 clinical hours in women’s health, pediatric and primary care clinics. And, I have been exposed to the challenges and rewards of providing healthcare services in the current healthcare climate.”

The best part about his time at Southeast as an undergraduate and graduate student has been the opportunity to be a part of the Southeast family and build lifelong, supportive relationships with faculty, including Desma Reno, assistant professor of nursing.

“She has been the most influential person in my Southeast experiences over the past 10 years,” Harris said.

As an undergraduate student, Reno encouraged Harris to take active leadership roles in the Southeast chapter of the Student Nurses’ Association, the Missouri Nursing Students’ Association and the National Student Nurses’ Association, which allowed him to travel throughout the United States to advocate for the nursing profession and meet nursing students from other states.

“She has always pushed me to advance my practice and advocate for my profession,” Harris said. “She encouraged me to pursue an advanced degree at Southeast and continue active participation in professional nursing organizations. She has always been a personal mentor of mine and has never stopped encouraging me to pursue my dreams.”

Harris, who plans to graduate in May 2020, hopes to work in an acute care clinic or primary care office as a Family Nurse Practitioner.

“The curriculum and professors at Southeast have helped me build off of my nursing foundation by helping me obtain advanced knowledge and skills to, one day, provide healthcare services to my local community.”