Zoe Harris decided at a young age to be a nurse and planned ahead to achieve her goal. While at Collins Hill High School, she got a head start on college through Georgia Gwinnett’s dual enrollment program. She also logged 400 volunteer hours at Gwinnett Medical Center (GMC).
In 2011, she enrolled in another Georgia college for pre-nursing courses, intending to transfer to GGC when it opened its bachelor of nursing program in 2014.
Her nursing dream was inspired by an early introduction to health care, as her mother, Lynn, had suffered from acute myeloid leukemia since Harris was 11 years old. She remembers her mother receiving cancer treatments at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.
“It was scary when she began to lose her hair and become more ill,” Harris said. “But the nurses helped make the situation less scary. They explained things to me and my younger brother and cared for us and our mother. That is the reason I was inspired to become a nurse.”
By 2012, her mother’s cancer was in remission and Harris was well into her college courses. However, in November of that year, her parents’ car was hit head-on by another driven by a drunk driver. Her father, Eric, had several broken bones. Her mother had multiple injuries,including a broken neck and back.
Her father recovered and her mother was transferred to GMC’s Glancy Rehabilitation Center for physical, speech and occupational therapy.
However, Lynn Harris later succumbed to her cancer and kidney damage from the accident, passing away in April 2014.
In GGC’s high-tech patient simulation suite, Zoe Harris holds a baby mannequin while her classmates care for the simulation mannequin programmed to function as a mother who has just given birth. The simulation equipment allows students to practice nursing skills in real time.
“I am just happy she knew I was accepted into Georgia Gwinnett’s nursing program before she passed,” Harris said. “While she was in hospice care, I told her, and she said it was the happiest day of her life and cried. She told everyone who came into her room that she always believed I would get into a nursing program.”
Even more determined to pursue her nursing dream, Harris came home to Gwinnett County to finish college. Highly selective, the GGC program accepts a maximum of 32 students per semester.
“My dad is a history buff, so he is very excited that I’m in the college’s charter nursing class,” she said. “I know this means I’ll always be part of the college’s history.”
Harris said she was excited to represent her class at one of the college’s historic milestones – September’s ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Allied Health and Sciences building, which houses the nursing program’s instructional facilities.
Harris said she is very aware of her class’ role in laying a foundation for future GGC nurses. In a way, the students are pioneers.
“The faculty say we are all building the program together for future classes,” she said.
Her first semester of clinical rotations, which provide real-world experience, included time at the Gwinnett County Detention Center and Glancy Rehabilitation Center. While the detention center rotation involved general wellness checks and monitoring, the rehabilitation center provided opportunities to work with patients experiencing a wide range of physical and mental challenges related to accidents, strokes and various diseases and conditions. This spring semester, rotations are at pediatric clinics and public health centers.
Harris is impressed with the modern approach of GGC’s nursing program, including the use of iPads and medical documentation software, a trending technology in health care. She particularly likes the program’s “flipped classroom” approach, which requires students to read online lecture material outside of class, reserving class time for hands-on instruction and practice of skills and concepts.
Harris most appreciates the faculty’s helpful commitment to student success, a contrast to her previous institution, she said.
“We’re like a family. They are really there for us,” she said.
Word is quickly spreading about GGC’s nursing program, she said. Grizzlies attending a recent Georgia Association of Nursing Schools conference were asked a lot of questions about the program.
After graduating in 2016, she plans to get a job and earn a master’s degree in nursing. She may pursue medical/surgical nursing or oncology nursing. She is intrigued by travel nursing, which allows nurses to augment staff at facilities in many locations.
“My parents were adventurous and traveled a lot when they were younger,” she said. “I would like to experience the world like they did and do what I love at the same time – helping people.”