Externships, research opportunities helped nursing grad chart path to success

Contact: Erin Flynn
A portrait of David Le in his cap and gown.

David Le will work as a graduate nurse in critical care at Bronson Methodist Hospital after graduation.

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Some students are buried in their books; Western Michigan University students lead presentations that inform industry leaders.

"I was able to go to a nursing conference and was the only student there. I was surrounded by people who wrote the textbooks we were reading in class!" says David Le, of Portage, Michigan. "The Bronson School of Nursing program has really set us up for success in our field." 

That success is evident as Le prepares to graduate on Saturday, April 27, with a bachelor's degree in nursing and a job already lined up as a graduate nurse in critical care at Bronson Methodist Hospital in Kalamazoo. He's also leaving his soon-to-be alma mater as a Lee Honors College graduate and the nursing program's Presidential Scholar, the highest award an undergraduate can receive.

"The faculty at the College of Health and Human Services are astonishing—their caliber, expertise, everything," he says, hailing the guidance he received for preparing him to hit the ground running in the industry.


Students stand around a computer monitor in a hallway.

Le helped coordinate student volunteers and lead a survey of patients at Ascension Borgess Hospital.

Le's success is a testament to the hard work and resilience he's displayed both in the classroom and professional settings as well as in life. 

As a teenager, he began having trouble swallowing food. After much testing, doctors discovered Le suffered from a rare esophageal disorder. Achalasia isn't generally a life-altering diagnosis, but the care Le received from nurses after enduring multiple scary surgeries to correct it changed the trajectory of his life.

"That's when I knew I wanted to be a nurse," says Le. "I knew I didn't want to be someone who just came in, gave a diagnosis and left the room. Nurses helped me through it all."

Now, several years later, he's racked up a number of experiences that have helped him chart his own course to his career.

Maddie Bies, Jordyn Swenson and David Le.

Le, right, worked on the project at Ascension Borgess with classmates Maddie Bies and Jordyn Swenson.

"I've done clinicals in several different (hospital) units that have helped me figure out what I liked or what I didn't," he says. "I've also gotten to see different things done in the background with other roles of nursing. For example, I went to the Van Buren/Cass County District Health Department where I learned about immunizations, school nursing and other services nursing provides for the community."

In his final semester at Western, Le also completed a nursing leadership and management project at Ascension Borgess Hospital in Kalamazoo where he and two classmates led a cutting-edge project that could change the future of pressure-wound monitoring in the facility and potentially systemwide. 

Le's team received high praise from their supervisors at the hospital for their data analysis and research to determine whether a new pressure ulcer risk assessment scale, known as the Shieh Score, could lead to better patient care.

"The fact that we're last-year nursing students on the forefront of this effort is pretty phenomenal," says Le. "I really love research, and this project reflects how much care has evolved—and we're adding to it. And I really liked being able to make a difference."


A passion for helping others is another driving factor in Le's career decision. He finds purpose in giving back and enjoys finding opportunities to do so, whether organizing community service projects as volunteer coordinator of first-year honor society Alpha Lambda Delta or mentoring younger nursing students.

"Throughout my years in the program, I've been asked to mentor students in the cohorts below me," he says. "It really sparked my love for teaching and inspiring others."

Le also found an opportunity to do meaningful research related to disparities in health care in his Lee Honors College thesis on experiences of Burmese patients in pain management. 

President Edward Montgomery and David Le.

Le, pictured with WMU President Edward Montgomery, was the nursing program's Presidential Scholar.

"There was a lot of research around African American populations and Latino populations getting less pain management than white populations, but there was not a lot of research around Asian populations. So I wanted to find out why that is," says Le, whose parents immigrated to the United States from Vietnam before he was born. 

His thesis chair, Dr. Maria Roche-Dean, assistant professor of nursing, suggested he focus on the Burmese population because of the large number of refugees in Battle Creek, Michigan, just about half an hour away from campus.

"She was amazing. She knows research like the back of her hand, and it helped me a lot with this study."

Le found that biases as well as language and cultural differences often created barriers to understanding between Burmese patients and the doctors treating them, often leading to negative care experiences. 

"We (as nurses) try to be patient-centered, but sometimes that can't happen because of barriers and other constraints.  It would be nice for the patients to feel more welcome," he says. 

Roche-Dean saw the value in Le's work and, with the support of the College of Health and Human Services and Lee Honors College, he earned an all-expenses paid trip to present at a nursing conference in South Carolina.

"I think (participants) were surprised that a student was there, but they quickly understood because they saw these effects happening in their communities, as well."

The experience was a full-circle moment for a first-generation college student who is also first in his family to go into health care.

"It was a great opportunity; I really appreciate it. My hard work really paid off."

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