For senior Jessica Turnitza, her most impactful lesson at Wilkes University came from a change in plans.
After graduating from Pottsville Area High School, Turnitza chose Wilkes to pursue three of her passions: nursing, swimming and Air Force ROTC. She was heartbroken when a medical disqualification ended her military aspirations. Then a former major told her, “Either find a way or make a way.”
“Since then, at Wilkes I did my best to carve my own path, to get involved, to be a leader despite not being able to serve my country.”
She knew as a child that her path would lead to nursing. Turnitza modeled her career choice after her mom, an oncology nurse turned school nurse. “Nursing was not only her career, but part of her character. I just wanted to be like her.”
Turnitza combined her passion for nursing with her love of writing when her mentor, Associate Professor Joyce Victor, asked her to collaborate on a journal article on telehealth patient education. “She believed in me,” Turnitza says. “She took the time to know me.”
The personal approach is part of Victor’s teaching philosophy. “I engage the students in conversations that encourage them to explore themselves, their reasoning and judgment, and their career goals. If students express a desire to do something within my area of expertise, I offer them opportunities to explore that area.”
Turnitza shows her commitment outside the classroom as well. She was a member of the swim team for three years. She coordinates campus blood drives for the American Red Cross and bone marrow testing for Be the Match. She serves as president of the Nursing Student Organization on campus and reports for Imprint, the National Student Nurses’ Association magazine.
She also answered an all-hands-on-deck call for student nurses to aid in the COVID-19 vaccination effort with the Lehigh Valley Health Network. Turnitza has a chance to work alongside her mom and put the skills she learned in the University’s nursing simulation lab into practice.
“It’s the hands-on stuff we learned, and I was able to apply it to help the community,” says Turnitza. “It was very rewarding.”
Turnitza plans to continue her career in psychiatric nursing following her experience working for both Geisinger Community Medical Center and Lehigh Valley Hospital – Schuylkill as a mental health aide. “I’m going to go for it,” she says. “This is my thing.”