Online grad overcomes disability, serves seniors
By Michael Ferraresi
GCU News Bureau
As most of her fellow online students “walk” for their diplomas, Latisha Anderson will roll.
The 35-year-old relied on a gritty work ethic, her faith in God, and an unwavering respect for the patients she hopes to serve to earn her nursing master’s degree at home from her wheelchair. She’s among more than 9,000 graduates of Grand Canyon University’s online academic programs eligible to attend commencement ceremonies Friday and Saturday at Comerica Theater in downtown Phoenix.
Anderson earned her Master of Science in nursing degree and is in the process of starting a new job at Banner Del E. Webb Medical Center in Sun City as a nurse manager in the geriatric psychiatric unit. She also recently completed her clinical rotation at Banner Thunderbird Medical Center in Glendale. Prior to moving West, she served senior veterans in Georgia and won an award for her nursing leadership in her native North Carolina.
“Even though I have a disability, I still have the ability to serve,” said Anderson, who moved to metro Phoenix from Raleigh, N.C., in September to begin her clinical rotation at a Phoenix senior health care center.
After starting that 13-week traveling assignment that would have counted as clinical rotation credit for GCU, Anderson was immediately let go — an unexpected change she attributed to her disability. She perceived that the employer saw her as unfit to perform some of the physical duties of the job. At the time, she was living temporarily in an extended-stay hotel near Sky Harbor International Airport, unemployed, isolated and uncertain about her future in health care, although she worked as a registered nurse consistently since 2009.
“I was devastated,” Anderson said. “I had so many things to worry about. I was very depressed.”
“I knew I couldn’t give up,” she said. “I wasn’t going to let it defeat me.”
Anderson was 17, less than two months from joining the Marines, when she was struck in the neck by a stray bullet fired by a cousin’s boyfriend and paralyzed from the breast down. She said no obstacle would be as serious as recovering from the gunshot wound as a high school senior growing up in a rough Raleigh neighborhood where violence was a regular reality.
She felt God took the feeling from her legs and led her to an interest in nursing to “help people get past the stigmatization of how disabled people serve in health care.”
At GCU, she’s “seen nothing but servants” in how nursing students work in the community and how her counselors helped her navigate her online graduate program. After the failed job, GCU staff helped her find a new one to complete her practicum requirements.
“They were genuine, they were caring,” Anderson said. “They made my needs the core of what we did and understood what it would take to help me be successful.”
GCU College of Nursing staffer Samantha Chacon said it’s rare for out-of-state students to travel to Arizona for practicum placements. But Anderson wanted to change her life and move from North Carolina.
Chacon assisted Anderson with placement in the senior-psych program that eventually cut her, but said the incident just made Anderson stronger.
“I think the fact that she’s had a lot of negativity thrown at her has sort of done the opposite,” said Chacon, a nursing practicum specialist who worked at the time placing advanced practice registered nurses.
“She seemed very driven,” Chacon said. “I would never have thought her disability would ever prevent her from doing an amazing job. She didn’t let it stop her.”
Anderson said her passion for working with seniors comes from a respect for past generations of military. She has served veterans of World War II and Vietnam as a nurse.
Getting around in her wheelchair does little to prevent Anderson from aiding senior patients who struggle with Alzheimer’s, dementia, depression and chemical-dependency issues. She will have as many as 15 nurses reporting to her at Banner Del Webb.
“A lot of seniors were major players in a lot of things,” Anderson said. “We owe it to them to take care of them. They’ve done their part on Earth, they’ve contributed to society.
“Who else is better to help than the (seniors) who’ve served their country?”
With the tools Anderson has learned at the graduate level, she now has total mobility in her career to make that service come full circle.
Contact Michael Ferraresi at 639.7030 or [email protected].