On March 12, 2020 the College of Nursing and Health Sciences welcomed back alumna Leah Fitzgerald, Esq. (BSN ‘01), who returned to speak to graduating senior nursing students in the transition to practice class. Leah Fitzgerald is a medical malpractice attorney at national law firm based in Minneapolis, who has devoted her entire professional career to working in healthcare. She worked for 13 years as a labor and delivery nurse before venturing into the legal profession. After graduating from law school, Leah worked in risk management for a large pediatric healthcare organization before transitioning to her law practice.
As a science-driven student growing up in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, Leah always knew she wanted to be a nurse, and with a quality nursing program in her own backyard, UW-Eau Claire was the right choice. One of her most memorable experiences as a student nurse was a week-long immersion trip to Holy Family Services birthing center located in a Texas border town with (now emerita) Associate Professor Rita Sperstad, Ed.D., RN. Leah feels a sense of gratitude to Dr. Sperstad for recognizing her passion for labor and delivery and guiding her career path. Leah is also grateful for the strong bonds she formed with other nursing students who together experienced the challenges and rewards of completing a baccalaureate degree in nursing.
While working as an RN, Leah became deeply involved in developing healthcare policies and procedures, an interest that ultimately drove her toward law school. Leah continued to work as a nurse while completing her law degree. She doesn’t see her current profession as in opposition to the medical care field, , rather as fighting for justice and advocating for her clients– if no longer at the bedside. As she stated, “I was first a nurse…”
When asked how the nursing program at UW-Eau Claire has shaped her career, Leah commented, “My nursing career here is what shaped me into the person that I am today. I always joke that nursing school taught me how to talk because a lot of my clinicals were meeting with individual patients and learning how to communicate with them…And then you are out of nursing school for a few years and you have all the clinical skills…but actually the theory behind how to advocate for patients, how to talk to patients, how to understand your patients, how to be able to communicate with the care provider when the patient is struggling, those are things that are cultured here and that, truly, I think has made me the medical malpractice attorney I am, as well.”
Leah advised that graduates, “Never be afraid of making a change. If you really see an opportunity to use your nursing career in a different way that maybe somebody hasn’t thought of, go for it. ”
Leah also encouraged other alumni to return to campus when invited because it is a great opportunity to impact the next generation and may provide surprising insights, as well.