Born and raised in Western North Carolina, Jessica Gasperson-Shuford, a summer 2023 graduate of Western Carolina University’s Master of Science in Nursing-Family Nurse Practitioner program, knew she wanted to go into the health care field since she was in her teens.
“I decided to go into the health care field when I was a junior in high school,” Gasperson-Shuford said. “My high school offered a certified nursing assistant program. So, whenever you graduated, you finished with your CNA credential and that was my first introduction and I just fell in love with it.”
Gasperson-Shuford wanted to dive deeper into the health care field, specifically into nursing, and received her undergraduate degree in nursing from WCU in 2020.
“I took a non-traditional route to my master’s degree because I got my CNA, then my license practical nurse, then my associate degree, my undergraduate BSN and now I have just finished my master's,” she said. “But it's been a wonderful experience and I think it's just where I'm supposed to be.”
Since graduating, Gasperson-Shuford has worked in several different health care settings but has found her calling to be oncology.
“I have dabbled in a few different nursing fields,” Gasperson-Shuford said. “I've been in dermatology, I've done inpatient nursing, but I've been in oncology nursing for the last five years and that is where I planned to stay when I decided to get my MSN-FNP degree.”
Gasperson-Shuford said the choice to continue at WCU for her graduate degree was an easy one.
“It was an easy choice to come back to WCU for grad school because I did have such a wonderful time with my undergraduate degree here,” she said. “I also put a lot of research into the different programs and WCU has a really great pass rate for the board exams and a really fantastic reputation. The in-person learning is another thing that sets WCU’s program apart from the others.”
Gasperon-Shuford credits Jacklyn Bandell, assistant professor and director for the FNP program, for the impact she has made in her time at WCU and in her career.
“She was my project chair for my thesis and was a fantastic mentor,” Gasperon-Shuford said. “She has pushed me and encouraged me and helped me go past my comfort zone of what I thought I was capable of.”
Gasperon-Shuford hopes to make an impact with specializing in education and patient advocacy and taking that extra five minutes to make sure the patient’s needs are met.
“With this program, just because of the diversity and the level of connection that you get to make, it really kind of brings you together in the best of both world of education and nursing,” Gasperson-Shuford said. “In the future, I really hope to continue to bring the patient education piece to my patients. I think nurse practitioners offer a very different perspective on that and offer patients something very different than a lot of other provider groups.”
Gasperson-Shuford shared that the diverse experiences she received at WCU are a rarity.
“One of the things I think sets Western apart is that our school really celebrates diversity in all aspects, whether it's people or experiences,” Gasperson-Shuford said. “It's something that is unique here. Our clinical experiences are something that is not offered at any of the other universities I looked at or something that any of my other nursing colleagues that are pursuing graduate degrees have gotten to experience. This program is all about getting out of your comfort zone, challenging yourself and advocating for your patients.”
For more information about the nursing program, visit nursing.wcu.edu.