FRCC alumna Leslie Barela is now executive director of Colorado Palliative and Hospice Care.
When Leslie Barela graduated from Thornton High School in the late 1980s, she was convinced she wasn’t cut out for college.
“I moved to New Mexico after high school, where I started working at a grocery store,” says Leslie, a born-and-raised Coloradoan. When a pharmacy technician job opened up in the store’s pharmacy, Leslie was nudged to apply—she was comfortable with computers, which was one of the job’s requirements.
Starting a Career in Health Care
Working as a pharmacy tech sparked Leslie’s interest in healthcare. When she moved back home to Colorado a few years later, she decided to go back to school.
Front Range Community College’s nursing program was on her radar at the time, but she still struggled with self-doubt.
“I wasn’t sure I had what it takes to be a nurse,” she says.
An advisor at another college encouraged her to start with a Medical Assisting certificate. She completed that in 1994 and began her career as a medical assistant in private pediatric offices. In 1999, she joined Children’s Hospital of Colorado.
Driven to Have a Bigger Impact
Throughout her career as a medical assistant, Leslie’s confidence grew, as did her desire to have a bigger impact in the hospital. As she reconsidered the idea of becoming a nurse, colleagues encouraged her to explore FRCC’s associate degree in nursing program—which she’d looked into all those years before.
This time, Leslie was determined to achieve her goal. She started taking prerequisite courses at FRCC’s Westminster Campus in 2004 and when her name came up on the waitlist in 2007, it felt like a dream come true.
For the next two years, Leslie continued to work full time at Children’s Hospital and went to school at night. Her two sons were six and eight when she started.
“It was challenging, but it is doable,” she says. Leslie graduated in 2009 at the age of 39.
A New Decade Brings a New Journey
Leslie started her nursing career in 2009 at health care company DaVita—she got hired for one of just two positions out of a pool of 250-some nursing school graduates. She attributes that to the FRCC degree on her resume.
“I truly believe that FRCC is the best college to get a nursing degree from, and it has such a strong reputation among hospitals and healthcare facilities across the Front Range,” says Leslie.
“The instructors prepare students with the skills they need to be great nurses. Even today, I feel that the skills I learned at FRCC have made me successful.”
Moving Into Leadership
In late 2009, Leslie joined St. Anthony’s North as a charge nurse. While there, she pursued both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in nursing online at Grand Canyon University. (Editor’s note: FRCC now offers a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree, which is required for many of today’s nursing jobs, especially leadership positions.)
She moved to a position with Kaiser Permanente in 2016, where she worked in the post-anesthesia care unit and gastrointestinal catheterization lab before moving into peri-operative nurse management.
Furthering her education allowed Leslie to continue to have an impact on patients. “As I have moved into management and leadership, I know that I have the opportunity to affect more than just the patients I care for at the bedside, but also the nurses who care for them,” Leslie says.
Helping Patients and Families Navigate End-of-Life Care
When a childhood friend of Leslie’s had a negative experience with hospice care for a family member, Leslie was inspired to redirect her career.
“I knew [end of life care] had to be done better than what my friend’s family went through,” Leslie says. She took a part-time night position at a hospice and palliative care facility in Denver, and knew right away that it was indeed her calling.
“I loved it, and wanted to become a leader in hospice care so I could make sure that families get what they deserve.”
Colorado Palliative and Hospice Care
In 2022, Leslie joined Colorado Palliative and Hospice Care (CPHC) as its director of clinical operations. The organization is part of HospiceServe, which manages seven offices in four states. Leslie helped open the Louisville office of Colorado Palliative and Hospice Care—the third in Colorado.
CPHC is growing, and in March 2023, Leslie was promoted to executive director. Her success building and leading the CPHC clinical team—combined with her nursing background, leadership experience and passion for patient-centered healthcare—landed her the job.
Leslie is helping lead CPHC as it lays out plans to serve more patients and families in Colorado and neighboring states. “I enjoy talking to people about what we do, because I’m so passionate about it,” she says.
“Serving patients and families during the end-of-life journey, whether in someone’s home of in a facility, is truly an honor.”
A Solid Foundation
All these years later, Leslie still cites her time at FRCC as transformative. “FRCC helped me become the nurse I am today, and I absolutely believe that it was the best foundation I could have received,” she says.
“The lectures, clinicals, hands-on experience and encouragement were excellent. I tell people all the time that FRCC is a school that instills confidence in students and is committed to helping them succeed.”
And although Leslie didn’t expect to work in hospice when she started her healthcare career, she has realized that nursing is a journey of learning, growing and discovering new ways to give back. “I loved where I was before, but now that I’m at CPHC, I can’t imagine being anywhere else,” she says. “Hospice fills my cup and gives my heart peace.”