(Aug. 5, 2022) The decision to attend East Tennessee State University came down to one overarching realization for Knoxville native Zach Dickenson – ETSU was just right.
“When I first toured ETSU, it was snowing and it was absolutely beautiful, and I remember my family was with me,” said Zach, who is now a senior nursing major at ETSU. “It was just us on the tour and it just felt like home. I could just see myself going to school here for the next four years.
“It wasn’t too big; it wasn’t small. There was so much to do on campus.”
Just the right size
As a student, Zach quickly discovered that a university the size of ETSU offered many opportunities to get involved, but was not so large that he got lost in a crowd.
He was elected to the College of Nursing’s Student Advisory Council and now serves as its president. Through this organization, Zach takes student feedback to the faculty in order to shape and impact the curriculum. They also participate in community outreach; last year, Zach helped the council plan a fundraiser to purchase toys for patients at Niswonger Children’s Hospital.
Zach has also made the most of the academic offerings at ETSU. He was accepted into the Honors-in-Discipline Program in the ETSU Honors College, which has afforded him research experience as an undergraduate. Before he graduates this December, he will defend his thesis, which aims to improve diabetic health literacy.
“My faculty mentors have really made an impact on me,” Zach said. “One thing that really stands out to me is the clinical experience that each faculty member has and those years of experience really reflect on the curriculum and make the College of Nursing stand out from other programs.”
Just the right location
The location of ETSU was another big draw for Zach.
“I chose ETSU because it was far enough away that I felt like I gained independence, but close enough to where if I wanted to return home, it wouldn’t be an issue,” he said.
This summer, Zach decided to remain in Johnson City and live on campus in order to pursue a nursing internship through the VALOR (Veterans Affairs Learning Opportunities Residency) Program at the James H. Quillen VA Medical Center at Mountain Home.
“Through this program, you get 400 hours of precepted experience, which is amazing,” Zach said. “You’re able to solidify all the coursework that you’ve learned in class in person and you actually get to see what you’ve been learning. And it really does make a difference.”
Zach is currently working in the ICU, at the VA which is a particularly meaningful assignment for him, as he was visiting an ICU when he decided to become a nurse.
“The spark for me was when my dad was admitted to the ICU and he was there for about two weeks,” Zach said. “Just seeing that compassionate, patient-centered care and the hard work that those nurses put into him and the trust he put back into them – it was something spectacular. And seeing him get better mentally and physically throughout his stay and the role his nurses played throughout his recovery, I knew from that point on that was what I wanted to do.”
As he looks forward to graduation in just a few months, Zach hopes to secure a position in an ICU and work a few years before pursuing an advanced nursing degree to become a nurse practitioner.
“Here I am now, about to graduate, and hopefully I can make that same impact that those nurses made on my dad,” Zach said.