Mendocino College Faculty in Focus: Karen Wilson
Mendocino College nursing instructor, Karen Wilson, grew up in the San Francisco Bay area, determined to have a career in a field that was non-traditional for women. How ironic, she says, that she ended up in nursing and teaching, the two most traditional women's professions!
While attending San Francisco State University, Wilson first considered a nursing career, but she dropped the idea, and spent six years sampling other fields. She worked as a bookkeeper, studied computer programming, considered pre-law, and finally chose a pre-med major in biochemistry at UC San Diego (UCSD). "It still didn't feel right," she says. She wanted more patient contact than she would have as a physician, so she found herself again drawn to nursing. As UCSD did not have a nursing program, she enrolled at San Diego State University, where she earned her BS in nursing—and met her husband, Steve Wilson.
The Wilsons missed Northern California, and when their first child was born, they decided it was time to leave the city. They moved to a house on five acres in Redwood Valley and never looked back. "Everything fell into place," she says. "Steve found his niche in local theater, and I got a job at Ukiah Valley Medical Center." Although labor and delivery had been her least favorite rotation in nursing school, that was her job at UVMC. To her surprise, she found that she loved it! She stayed for fourteen years, until she saw an ad for a clinical nursing instructor at MC.
Although she had mentored many new nurses, and was a certified childbirth educator, "I never considered myself a teacher," she says. However, working as a clinical instructor came quite naturally to her.
During her first year teaching at MC, and sixteen years after graduating from nursing school, Wilson enrolled in the master's degree program at Sonoma State University to become a nurse practitioner. While working full time at MC, she continues to work part-time as a nurse practitioner out of Dr. Gitlin's family practice office.
Wilson says the best part of her job is "witnessing the students as they transform themselves into nurses." She also appreciates the rest of the nursing staff. "I look forward to coming to work everyday," she says.
Although she enjoys all her classes, her favorite class to teach is the leadership course in the last semester of the program, when the students have taken on the nursing role. She is proud that "every year we send a wonderful, new group of nurses out into the world."
Wilson says the electronic age has radically changed nursing, and nursing education since she was a student. She enjoys integrating technology into the classroom, and feels it is crucial to helping today's' students grasp important concepts.
Wilson believes most people would be surprised to learn that she is naturally inclined to be a quiet, "behind the scenes" person. "Nursing brought me out of myself a long time ago," she says, "but I still need to go home and recharge my batteries by working in the garden or cooking."
In her free time, Wilson enjoys textile crafts, including sewing costumes for local theater productions. She notes that her son, Chuck, is a theater major at MC, and her whole family is often involved in a single theater production, with her husband as the lighting technician, Chuck as a performer, and herself making costumes. A novice gourmet cook, she loves to make "eccentric desserts," like chocolate espresso cheesecake.