Thad Wilson (standing, far right) leads a group of nursing and pharmacy students and faculty to Honduras each summer to provide health care in rural areas.

Career in nursing leads Thad Wilson down some interesting paths

All roads, though, lead him back to UMKC

From a small town in Washington state to even smaller villages in Honduras to the political fast lane in Washington D.C., Thad Wilson’s career in nursing has led him down some unexpected paths.  Luckily, one of those paths led to the UMKC School of Nursing where Wilson is an associate professor and serves as the school’s associate dean. Not a man who likes to sit still, though, Wilson continues to seek out new pathways.


Mr. Wilson goes to Washington

Wilson’s most recent journey took him to the nation’s capital where he spent the past year serving as president of the American College of Nurse Practitioners (ACNP), a national non-profit advocacy and support organization. Although the logistics of juggling his duties here at UMKC and frequent trips to ACNP headquarters in Washington D.C. was challenging, Wilson said the experience was worth it.

“Not only did I get to spend a year working with amazing nurse practitioners from all over the country,” he said, “I also had a front-row seat for the health care reform debate.”

To be accurate, Wilson had more than a “front-row seat.”  He -- along with his ACNP colleagues -- worked directly with members of the Congress in advising and developing aspects of the health care reform bill passed by the House of Representatives last fall.

“Although it was the Senate version of the bill that was eventually passed, a lot of the things we liked in the House bill were included,” he said.

Wilson is pleased that the bill was passed, but also believes there is still much that has to be done before the country begins to see any real change take place.


The journey begins

Growing up in Washington state, Wilson considered a number of different options before landing on the nursing path. As a child, he developed an interest in science and was always good with numbers.

“My dad was a math teacher and, for a long time, I think I just assumed that I would be a mathematician,” he said. “That’s what I focused on when I first went to college, but it just didn’t click for me. I’m a people person and mathematics is kind of a solitary pursuit.”

His gift for numbers led him next to economics but that, too, did not appeal to the “people person” in him. As he was pondering his next step, fate stepped in.

“I was dating a girl who just happened to be studying nursing,” Wilson said. “I went with her to some student meetings and pretty soon, the light bulb clicked on.”

Soon, he had a Bachelor of Science in Nursing at a time when the nation was in the midst of a severe nursing shortage, so there were seemingly limitless options for Wilson to decide what to do next. Again, fate stepped in.


Detour to Latin America

This time, fate came in the form of a lonely looking man sitting in the back of the room at a career fair Wilson attended.

“Something drew me to him,” Wilson said. “I found out that he was recruiting nurses to work in Honduras. He promised horrible conditions and lousy pay. I told him to sign me up right there.”

Wilson spent the next two years working in a rural clinic on the outskirts of Horconcitos, Honduras. From there, he routinely traveled to some of the most remote regions of the country to provide health care to rural farmers and their families.

After returning to the United States and earning his Master’s and Ph.D., Wilson has traveled to Honduras almost every year to assist at the clinic. Since coming to UMKC, he found a way to combine academics with this humanitarian pursuit by leading a team of pharmacy and nursing students to Honduras for two weeks each summer to continue the mission. Read more here.


Mr. Wilson comes home to UMKC

No matter where his travels take him, Wilson said he is always happy that he gets to come back home to UMKC.  It was the path that led him here, after all, that paved the way for so much of what he has been able to accomplish.

“After I got my Ph.D., I decided that I wanted to do more than practice. I wanted to do research and I wanted to teach and UMKC has given me the opportunity to do all of that,” he said.

That doesn’t mean he has any plans for sitting still or settling into a routine. Wilson is always on the lookout for a new path to follow, a new passion to indulge or a new challenge to meet.

“That’s the thing I love about nursing — there are always open doors, always new areas to explore and enjoy.”

Posted: May 17, 2010

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“I found out that he was recruiting nurses to work in Honduras. He promised horrible conditions and lousy pay. I told him to sign me up right there.”

Thad Wilson, Ph.D.
Associate Professor and Associate Dean
UMKC School of Nursing

Thad Wilson addresses attendees of the ACNP Annual Conference. Wilson served as the College's 2009-2010 President.