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Nursing program and outside-the-classroom experiences prepare new grad for career in health care

| Judy Berthiaume

Photo caption: Leah Bettcher made the most of all that UW-Eau Claire offers both in and outside the classroom. The May nursing graduate served as a leader within the nursing program as well as in organizations across campus, including the Blugold Marching Band. (Photos by Bill Hoepner)

It’s no surprise to Leah Bettcher that the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire has prepared her well for a career in health care. After all, it was the university’s excellent nursing program and connections to nearby hospitals that brought her to campus.

What Bettcher was surprised to find as a Blugold were the countless opportunities within and outside of nursing to build her leadership and other soft skills, all of which will help her succeed in her future career and life.

“I’ve developed time management, critical thinking and stress reduction skills that’ll benefit me as I begin my nursing career,” says Bettcher, who will graduate in May with a major in nursing and a minor in public health. “Additionally, networking opportunities, like career fairs and volunteering, helped me form connections with professionals and future colleagues in and outside of the Eau Claire community.”

Leah Bettcher

Highlights of Bettcher’s outside-the-classroom nursing experiences include being a CPR instructor, a student nurse ambassador, and assisting with public health initiatives at the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

She’s especially proud of her work as a CPR instructor, an experience that has “strengthened my understanding of the content I’ve learned in my nursing classes, such as interpreting heart rhythms and prioritizing interventions,” says Bettcher of Glencoe, Minnesota. “I’ve also learned teaching and communication strategies that I can apply as a nurse, especially when providing education to patients.”

Bettcher says it also was rewarding to work on a public health clinical/service-learning project on the Rosebud Indian Reservation, collaborating with community partners, including public health officials and school nurses, to share health-related information. While there, the Blugolds also conducted vision screenings in schools.

“Applying the skills I’d developed — including teaching, health promotion, presenting and leadership — there was such a good experience,” Bettcher says. “Working with health professionals and community leaders made it especially memorable.”

Beyond nursing, Bettcher was a leader in the Blugold Marching Band, which she calls the “most meaningful outside-of-nursing experience of my undergraduate career.” She also co-taught a freshman University Honors course.

Through the Honors program, Bettcher found connections to research opportunities. For example, she worked with the geography department to study bicycle safety in Eau Claire and with the environmental public health department to raise awareness of the Powassan virus, a tickborne disease of growing concern in Wisconsin.

“All these experiences connected me with students outside of my major, exposing me to different viewpoints and opportunities on and off campus,” Bettcher says. “College can be overwhelming at times, so getting involved outside the classroom is a good way to burn off class-related stress, and to spend time on other passions.”

After graduation, Bettcher will work as a registered nurse on the medical/surgical floor at Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire.

“I’ve always had a passion for caring for others,” Bettcher says. “I’m fascinated by science, especially anatomy, physiology and the health sciences. Nursing is a wonderful blend of those passions, allowing me to apply textbook knowledge toward health promotion while cultivating relationships between patients and their families.”