David Ward had healthcare experience to draw upon before enrolling in the UNLV School of Nursing’s Accelerated Second Degree program. But his education began dramatically (literally) in theater studies, receiving his degree in 2001 from the University of Illinois.
In 2003, while working in event and conference planning, a friend mentioned the local fire department was taking applications for volunteers. Ward was intrigued and signed on, and from there the seeds of a medical career were planted.
He earned his EMT license and eventually became a paramedic in 2009.
“I'll never forget the first time I [took the] blood pressure of this sick woman in her home, which wasn't a big deal, but it was the whole idea of being able to use, at the time, limited knowledge and skills to be able to help this person in a small, but meaningful way. [It] was really exciting,” he says.
To Ward, it was natural to go from being a paramedic to a nurse. He says the two roles share a critical trait: bringing calm to chaos.
“You walk into a scene — whether it be someone's house or in the hospital — they're having a terrible time, possibly the worst time in their life,” he says. “I might not know what's going on or what I need to do, but it's about a calming presence. That's going to help them know I'm there to help in whatever possible way.”
In 2016, Ward and his wife moved to Las Vegas after she secured a position as an assistant professor at UNLV. While he kept up with his EMS work, Ward searched around for viable nursing school options. With some guidance from his wife, he ultimately zeroed in on UNLV both for its reputation and his ability to still use some pre-requisite credits (verses other schools that had a shorter cutoff time to use them).
He admits he hesitated back to school as an older student. But now he urges anyone who wants to go back to school — if they have the resources and time — to follow through with it, especially if it’s for the greater good, saying, “For me as far as why didn't I go into nursing years ago versus now, [I just realized] nurses are needed; they're going to be needed forever.”
A few years ago, Ward was diagnosed with ADHD as an adult and he praises his instructors for working with him to accommodate his learning style. Instead of looking at this as an obstacle, he embraces the need to sharpen his focus on his studies. “I don't have the option to postpone that deadline anymore, which is something I realized recently is one thing I can do with ADHD,” Ward says. “There will always be time to do it later, [but] that leads to all sorts of issues in day-to-day life.”
Now finally in nursing school, Ward can see how his prior health-based work has prepared him for the information overload in the Accelerated program. “My experience has definitely helped me process the information and put a context to [what] we're learning.”
Additionally, Ward sees some comparisons to his theater days, in the sense that you have to be flexible at a moment’s notice. “You do all your training, all your preparation, then it comes to a head in these real moments. It's about being able to think on your feet and improvise.”