Recent years saw healthcare professionals in the limelight celebrated as heroes. Working late nights and early mornings, they are still heroes to many, and Virginia Peninsula Community College’s LeRon Lewis is among the ranks.
Aspiring to effect change in the healthcare industry, the VPCC graduate is positioning himself for a leadership role.
“After being really involved in the pandemic on the emergency management side and everything that that entailed, I knew what my role was … what my purpose was,” he recalled. “My goal in the next five year is to begin working in healthcare leadership. Specifically, I want that work to be centered on mitigating health disparities among marginalized groups (minorities, LBGTQ+, women, disabled, and transgender individuals).”
“There is a huge gap. I recognize that it's probably never going to be fully closed. But I want to be involved in the efforts and know that I was able to work in a capacity that helped ensure inclusive, equal access to affordable healthcare for all people who need it,” he added.
As Lewis carries out his life’s plan, which includes ultimately earning a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing, EMS students at VPCC benefit from his expertise. The once full-time VPCC faculty member has been an adjunct instructor since 2022. He creates engaging learning experiences for students.
He shares an example of a recent class where a simulation gave students hands-on, interactive application of their knowledge and skills using mannequins. During what Lewis called an “adult field day,” he let students create games – one akin to dodgeball. The mock emergency involved a patient whose symptoms included shortness of breath, hives and more.
"Their response would be: ‘We’re going to throw Benadryl. We’re going to throw albuterol. We’re going to throw oxygen.’ So, they’re able to connect concepts of interventions and medications that they could do. Then, there are discussions around what’s happening,” he explained.
“Research and science have shown that if adults are actively engaged in the learning process, they are more likely to be successful," Lewis emphasized, underscoring his teaching philosophy.
For the 2004 graduate of Spotsylvania County’s Massaponax High School, going from teaching full time to part time was strategic. His full-time faculty stint at VPCC spanned three years, beginning in 2016 when the College established its EMS program. A position at a Richmond hospital drew him away for about two years before he returned to VPCC.
His 2021 return was in a different capacity. He had enrolled in the College’s nursing program.
Lewis, who already had a master's degree in healthcare education from North Central University, acknowledges he didn’t take the traditional higher education route. Although deep into his EMS career, he wanted nursing credentials to break through limitations and move closer to his goal of executive leadership in healthcare.
“Even though I had a lot of experience in EMS ... in education and being in emergency management, I was pretty much kind of stalemated. I didn't have an MBA or a nursing degree,” he said. “Despite my wanting to make positive contributions to healthcare and despite my experience – my very significant experience – without a nursing credential, I was limited,” he said, pointing out that VPCC was the logical, most affordable choice for his nursing education.
He completed the program in 2022, passed the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) on the first attempt, and hasn’t looked back.
While a student, Lewis engaged in campus life as a Student Nurses’ Association member, even serving as an officer within the organization. He is grateful for the support of staff members like Kristen May and Mitzi Williams, whom he views as “unsung heroes.”
Williams met Lewis in 2016 when she was with the Human Resources department. She appreciates his “genuine passion for education and student success.”
“(I) found LeRon to be very personable, professional, and respectful… When I became an education support specialist in the Public Safety, Allied Health, and Human Services (PSAHHS) division and worked with LeRon more frequently, I observed, on many occasions, his interactions with other instructors and students,” said Williams.
“LeRon is an innovator and has a great ability to capture students' attention and interest ... that contributes to student success,” she added, calling Lewis “an achiever” and exemplary role model for the PSAHHS division.
His student experience gave Lewis a perspective that impacts his teaching. He understands the nuances and challenges of student life and can offer students more meaningful insight and support.
“I had to navigate some of the same things that they may be struggling to navigate, understand, or figure out,” he emphasized.
Additionally, working as an ER nurse at Riverside Regional Medical Center informs his teaching, allowing him to mentor aspiring healthcare professionals more aptly.
“I learned so much being a nurse. EMS and nursing are very different fields but there is a lot of cross over. So, I'm able to balance … articulate or convey things a lot better. In fact, it has helped me be a better educator.”
In his nursing career, Lewis finds immense reward in witnessing positive changes in patients' conditions and encountering former students who are thriving in their EMS careers.
He offers sound advice for those interested in nursing or EMS careers.
“You need to pursue it with relentless perseverance. And, you must have a whatever-it- takes attitude about it. If you can say, ‘whatever it takes, by any means necessary,’ you will be successful. You can't get knocked down and stay down,” he declared.