LaShe' Tomlin-Wilks

After initially struggling, LaShe’ Tomlin-Wilks blossomed in the UMSL College of Nursing, helping her peers and working her way up in the Minority Student Nurses Association, serving as president her final semester. She’s now a medical-surgical nurse at Mercy Hospital. (Photo courtesy of LaShe’ Tomlin-Wilks)

LaShe’ Tomlin-Wilks has been thinking about the advice she would give herself when she started in the College of Nursing at the University of Missouri–St. Louis.

  1. Just go for it, even if you hesitate, even if you’re scared.
  2. Believe in yourself, and think positive thoughts.
  3. Put in the time.
  4. Sometimes you have to be selfish.

For Tomlin-Wilks, the last piece turned out to be key.

She’d always been a people person and someone who had a hard time saying no, whether the request was for help or to hang out. But the challenging load of the BSN program changed that.

“It took a while,” she said. “It was hard. It was hard to be disciplined. It was hard to tell people, ‘No.’ The further I got into it, the more I knew I had to be selfish with me because nobody else is going to get me through these exams. Nobody else is going to get me through nursing school.”

Tomlin-Wilks got used to saying no. After an initial period of struggle, she blossomed in the BSN program, not only excelling but helping her peers and working her way up in the Minority Student Nurses Association, serving as president her final semester. She was determined to give back.

Then, after graduating in May, she started a job as a medical-surgical nurse at Mercy Hospital.

“I’m really excited,” she said. “I worked hard at this. I’ve been thinking about it – it’s just so rewarding.”

A native of St. Louis with a twin sister, Lauren, and two brothers, Tomlin-Wilks initially wanted to leave town for school. She enrolled at Alabama A&M University for her first year, interested in the HBCU experience, and started a biology major.

She’d always known she wanted to go into health care and thought about becoming a doctor. But after looking into different careers, she realized nursing was for her. But there was a problem – AAMU didn’t have a nursing program.

“I looked at UMSL’s curriculum, and I thought I might as well go for it,” Tomlin-Wilks said.

The transition between her previous studies and the nursing program turned out to be rough. School had always come easily to Tomlin-Wilks, but suddenly she found herself working harder than ever before.

She realized that she didn’t know how to best study and, without an automatic admission into the nursing program, figuring that out was critical. One thing that helped was finding a peer, Essence White, who was also trying to do the same thing.

But admittance into the program wasn’t the end goal for Tomlin-Wilks. She had to continue improving her study skills, working relentlessly and focus on keeping a positive mindset.

“My biggest struggle was asking for help,” she said. “I wouldn’t use resources. I wouldn’t go to a tutor, if I’m struggling in the class. But the more comfortable I got, the more that I was exposed to resources. Something started to change before my eyes.”

During that process she met College of Nursing Student Success and Retention Coordinator Tiffany Izard Magee, who became a sounding board for Tomlin-Wilks.

“I first met LaShe’ as a preclinical student at a workshop I was giving regarding study skills,” said Izard-Magee. “She was shy and timid and full of self-doubt, but I remember being blown away by her self-awareness, her kindness and her humility.

“LaShe’ was willing to put her dream of becoming a nurse above her ego, and in doing so, achieved so much during her time at UMSL. In addition to her achievements, LaShe’s positivity and kindness really stood out to me. I would definitely want someone like her at my bedside if I was going through a scary medical challenge, and I am so excited that she can now put RN, BSN behind her name.”

Pretty soon, Tomlin-Wilks’s efforts began showing results – especially after joining the nursing organization MSNA. Tomlin-Wilks joined because she wanted to feel support from her peers and be inspired by the success of other students of color.

Then she was nominated to become secretary.

“I was like, ‘No, I cannot do this. I have so much going on. I can’t add another responsibility,’” she said. “They were like, ‘You can do it. If I can do it, you can do it.’ That motivated me.”

She rose to vice president the subsequent year amid the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. Because of the significant load on both Tomlin-Wilks and the organization’s president, the two decided to share responsibilities and work as a team.

It became a natural choice for Tomlin-Wilks to step into the president’s role once her predecessor graduated.

One of the biggest difficulties became reaching and supporting members as the pandemic necessitated hybrid and remote learning. Tomlin-Wilks made sure to regularly check in with everyone during meetings and ask how MSNA could help them.

“People actually needed the support,” she said. “Being president this semester, the challenge, I think that’s what made me strive to be a better leader. I didn’t want to let anyone down because of the circumstances.”

Tomlin-Wilks is taking those leadership skills and her desire to help others to Mercy Hospital, where she’s started on as a medical-surgical nurse. She hopes to eventually work in labor and delivery or with children in another capacity, but is looking forward to using the skills she first developed in her senior practicum at the hospital.

Regardless of where she ultimately ends up, Tomlin-Wilks knows she’ll continue to strive to encourage and motivate others.

“I never knew how much people watching my journey look up to me,” she said. “I want people to know me. I want people to know my name. I want to have an impact on others. I just always try to be there for people and inspire others. I think that’s what I enjoy doing.”

Jessica Rogen

Jessica Rogen