Wesleyan Women of Distinction-Dr. Jessica (Keenan) Estes ’01

Why did you choose Wesleyan?
“I am a 1997 graduate of Hancock County High School. I was never in a classroom with more than 30 people, so when I started looking at colleges, I wasn’t ready to be in a place where I didn’t even know the names of my classmates. I wanted a solid science program that offered the opportunity to get into multiple graduate options. KWC had three fantastic biology faculty; Dr. Oetinger, Dr. Kingsolver and Professor Davenport. It was clear when speaking with graduate programs that they had stellar reputations.”

What are special memories of your years at Wesleyan?
“It was such a fun time in my life. At the time of my attendance, my husband and future sister-in-law and one of my best friends also attended.  You could see us all at the Mr. KWC competition annually. I was a Kappa Delta and my sorority involvement was also high. Probably my favorite memory is chemistry lab and nearly setting the ceiling on fire in the old building in an experiment gone awry.”

How did Wesleyan help prepare you for your successful career?
“Over the years, I have often been thankful for the preparation KWC offered academically. Grades had always been easy for me and when I started at KWC, I had to earn everything. Faculty challenged my knowledge at every turn and their expectations were high. I remember telling my friends at other colleges and universities about sophomore and senior seminars, and they were amazed at the level of expectations. Moving from KWC on to the master’s program at Vanderbilt, I felt that I was well prepared to perform to their standards. I went into the master’s program well rounded because of my time at KWC.”

Why did you choose behavioral health?
“My minor at KWC was psychology, and I would like to say I knew where I was supposed to be. But in reality, I started at Vanderbilt in the family nurse practitioner track, and it wasn’t until my rotation at Middle Tennessee Mental Health Institute that my clinical faculty asked me why I wasn’t in the psych track. I changed my discipline in the middle. Behavioral health is my love, and I know that knowing my patients is part of what has made me a good provider.”

Tell us about your career.
“I started out as a nursing assistant working in long-term care at age 15. I worked in skilled nursing facilities from 1995-2001. After graduating from KWC and trying to decide on graduate programs, I worked as the admissions coordinator for Wellington Parc. I attended Vanderbilt University’s master’s program and returned to long-term care in 2004 as the nurse practitioner/utilization coordinator for Hillcrest Nursing Center. In 2006, a part-time teaching position opened at Owensboro Community and Technical College, and I practiced there and taught until I stepped into the associate dean for nursing role from 2007-2009. I went back into practice as a full-time psychiatric nurse practitioner in 2009 for Owensboro Health, and then opened my practice, Estes Behavioral Health, in 2012.”

What are your responsibilities at the Kentucky Board of Nursing?
“The Kentucky Board of Nursing is responsible for licensure and regulation of nurses at all levels. The includes licensed practical nurses, registered nurses, advanced practice nurses, dialysis technicians, certified nursing assistants and will soon govern certified professional midwives. As the executive director, I will have oversight and input into all levels of licensure and education with the help of 50 or more staff members. The board has over 90,000 licensees.”

Tell us about your life away from the workplace.
“My husband, Kyle, also a 2001 graduate, and I were high school sweethearts who attended KWC together. The longest we were ever apart was the year I lived in Nashville, and even then, not for more than a few weeks. We married in 2003 and have three children – Cameron (13), Cassandra (10) and Carissa (7).  Kyle serves as  superintendent of Hancock County Public Schools.  My mom, Sandi (Edwards) Thomas ’93, and Kyle’s sisters – Shelle (Estes) Reck ’97 and Allison (Estes) Ross ’02 – are all KWC graduates.”