By TOMIE LUNSFORD
Telegram Staff Writer
Her 27 years at Temple College started with a TV - or more precisely, a TV commercial.
“The idea of being a nurse came along as I grew up. I always knew I wanted to do something with people. I just wasn’t quite sure what,” said Virginia Leak, the about-to-retire TC division director of nursing. “But then I saw a TV commercial that said, ‘Be a nurse,’ and I thought, ‘Maybe I can . . . maybe I will.’”
Mrs. Leak worked seven years as a staff nurse at Temple’s three hospitals before becoming an instructor for the TC vocational nursing program in 1980.
“But the real fun didn’t start until three years later,” Mrs. Leak said, her laughs coming quick and full spirited.
That’s when the college started its Registered Nursing program.
“It’s my baby. It’s become my life,” she said, starting to talk about the thing that lays claim to the last 14 years of her life.
In 1990, as director of the Licensed Vocational Nursing program, Mrs. Leak approached TC administration with a proposal for an RN program. Dr. James Van Ness supported her idea, and in 1993, it was realized.
“That first year, we graduated 24 students from the RN program,” Mrs. Leak said. “All of them had a 100 percent pass rate on the state’s nursing exam.”
Since the day it started, Mrs. Leak said she has been excited to be at the helm of the RN program.
“I was able to choose everything, from what kind of program it would become to the students’ uniforms,” Mrs. Leak said. “The philosophy of the program was one of the most important things to me. I wanted care to be at the core of it.
“It’s important for the students to know they’re in a caring environment. It’s important that they carry that care over to their patients,” she continued. “From application to graduation, I wanted the students to know we cared about them.”
That’s a lesson Bridgett Anderson said she learned well. She’s a TC 2001 RN graduate who works at the Scott and White Surgical Pavilion as a day surgery nurse.
“She always showed us how important it was to treat your patient,” Ms. Anderson said. “We were taught to treat patients as people - in a way that we would want ourselves and our family members to be treated. She taught us how to care.”
The RN class of 2006, the most recent batch of Mrs. Leak’s students, earned a 100 percent passing rate on the Registered Nurse Exam as well. In total, 500 Registered Nurses have graduated from Temple College.
Sheila Rogers of Temple, a 2007 TC nursing graduate, said there is no way she would have her job as a recovery room nurse if it wasn’t for Mrs. Leak.
“I had a ninth-grade education with a GED and was out of school for 20 years when I first applied for nursing school,” Ms. Rogers said. “Virginia Leak is the one who was always there for me. She was the one who helped me, encouraged me and pushed me through.”
Knowing that her unique situation would make nursing school an especially rough challenge, Ms. Rogers said Mrs. Leak convinced her that graduation was possible.
“(Mrs. Leak) always had an open-door policy. She was never too busy to help,” Ms. Rogers said. “She encouraged me and drove me forward to do my best. I know it sounds selfish, but I can’t help but be grateful that she didn’t retire before I graduated.”
Mrs. Leak’s face blushes when she gets compliments like these from former students. She said she gave them the tools, but they did the work. Their success is their own, she said.
Other programs Mrs. Leak implemented at TC include the Nurse Aide program in 1989 and the LVN bridging program in 1995.
“The Nurse Aide program trains students to be bedside aides for people in long-time care facilities. They end up becoming Certified Nursing Assistants,” Mrs. Leak explained.
And she said the LVN bridging program is a dual-credit type of course that allows nursing students to simultaneously earn credits for both their LVN and RN degrees.
Mrs. Leak also spearheaded the 2004 installation of the LVN program at the college’s campus in Taylor. That program started with 12 students, and now it has more than 20.
“It’s doing exceptionally well,” she said, her face, beaming with pride. It also has a 100 percent pass rate.
“But the RN program. That’s my baby,” Mrs. Leak said, practically cooing the letters “R” and “N.” “You know, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board named it an exemplary program in 1995.”
But the time comes - eventually - for every mother to let her baby go. Mrs. Leak’s official last day is Aug. 31.
“I am so going to miss it,” Mrs. Leak said, trying to share some of her upcoming plans for retirement. “It’s my baby. It’s my life. And it’s strange to think that soon, I’ll be leaving it behind. It’s hard to leave. But with all the programs strong, the time is right. I feel very good about what I’ve been able to accomplish with the help of my good faculty.”
If her baby needs help though, Mrs. Leak won’t go far.
“I’m staying in Temple,” she said. “I’m going to do some traveling at first, and I want to spend as much time as I can with my grandchildren, but I imagine sooner or later, I’ll be back as an adviser or consultant or something.”