Your dream career may not always be your first career. Laurel Geis, MSN, RN, CNL, found her calling later in life. Now, she steers the next generation toward healthcare—early on.
Laurel, originally from the Golden State’s San Gabriel Valley, majored in business at the University of Southern California and then worked in finance and operations for 20 years—first at the Big Four accounting firm Arthur Andersen, and then, helping her mom run a recruiting business. “And along the way, I started a family and had four beautiful kids,” she recalls. “It was only when my kids started having health challenges that I began to be more interested in healthcare. As these different challenges came up, I realized I really needed to be the primary health advocate for myself and my kids.”
In 2007, Laurel and her family moved to Charlottesville, where her husband, professor George Geis, joined the UVA School of Law faculty. Laurel learned UVA had a direct-entry master’s nursing program and started taking prerequisites. Once she joined the program, Laurel graduated within two years as a Clinical Nurse Leader and decided to look for work in this area. Since she’d raised kids here, and her husband worked for the University, she says “it felt natural” that she should start her nursing career here.
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Laurel first served as a critical care nurse at UVA Health University Medical Center’s Coronary Care Unit (CCU) for two years. “I was able to work with patients at the most vulnerable and scariest times in their lives and I had incredible preceptors who still inspire me!” she says. The experience helped her realize how important it is for nurses not only to be skilled in their practice — but also empathetic and kind in their interactions with patients and team members.
In 2020, as the pandemic raged on, a friend at the UVA School of Nursing recruited Laurel to become a clinical instructor. “Even though I didn’t know much about teaching, it was a super intriguing idea,” she remembers thinking. “It was the first fall of the pandemic, and we didn’t know which end was up.” But she did not shy away from the challenge.
Laurel started slowly, working in the hospital while also taking on a group of students. “It wasn’t long before I realized I loved teaching. But the workload of teaching, caring for patients, as well as caring for four kids at home, was too much and I had to make a choice. I decided to go with teaching—and haven’t looked back since!”
She’s now been on the faculty of the UVA School of Nursing for almost two years—“and I truly love it!”
Laurel works with BSN students in the clinical setting at University Medical Center to get them the hands-on experience they need to become great nurses. She tries to facilitate the entire process—ensuring students are getting the necessary experience and that nurses feel supported, with students by their side.
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Laurel adds that being able to teach the fundamentals makes her feel like she can have a huge impact. “If a student can look back years from now and say, ‘I remember that Laurel taught me how to approach things this way, or that Laurel helped me consider these bigger factors when helping my patients’—that means I’ve made a difference.”
How does she put her own special spin on teaching? “I know what it can be like to be a nurse: you work your tail off and you don't always get recognized for all the great work you’ve done!” Laurel tries her best to make sure students and nurses know how much they’re appreciated—by giving them gratitude, and as much positive feedback as possible.
Distinction in Education
In 2021, Laurel won a Nursing Excellence Award for Nurse of Distinction. “It came as a complete shock! And I only learned at that moment that my colleagues had taken the time in the middle of the pandemic to write a nomination.” She felt incredibly honored by the award—and touched by what they’d done. “It just meant so much to me and since then, I’ve tried to pay that forward. Sometimes that means just a genuine and heartfelt thank you and other times it’s a personalized thank you note to a nurse—letting them know how much we all appreciate what they do.”
Nursing is as much a calling as a career. And for Laurel, being able to remind nursing students of the opportunity to make a difference and be a life changing force for good, is a reminder of why she embarked on this second act.
“I was a business major who worked for years in finance until my kids helped me reevaluate what I wanted out of life,” she explains. “I was able to make the jump to nursing and, for that, I am so grateful.” Don’t be afraid to try something new—it’s a great lesson. “For example, go take a class. It's a cool opportunity to test out the waters without having to make a commitment to switch.”
Echoing her roots in recruiting, Laurel adds, “And if being a nurse sounds interesting, UVA School of Nursing still has an incredible CNL program!”
Originally published on UVA Health's UVA Connect.