It all happened in stages.
Stage one: I set a goal
I got my first stethoscope when I was six years old. It was in a doctor’s kit my siblings and I used to examine on our dolls. Eventually, I decided I wanted to be a nurse. In my senior year of high school, I wrote my goal for the future in my yearbook: “I will obtain my bachelor’s degree in nursing.”
The entire senior class wrote their goals in their yearbooks. I wonder how many of them succeeded. But I digress.
Stage two: Blindsided by love
After graduation in 1982, I attended Temple University and started working toward my goal, but it wasn’t long before life took a turn.
At the university, my course load was challenging but manageable, and I was doing well — staying focused and enjoying campus life. It was great. Then I met a man, and I was blindsided by love. He was my first boyfriend.
Of course, I lost my focus on nursing. Love will do that to you. He had a job, his own place, and a car. And he chose me.
Soon, we got married, and two baby girls came right away. I couldn’t juggle family life and school and ended up dropping out. I loved my family, so I wasn’t devastated by leaving school. For now, I was fine being a nurse for my children. I was happy and believed all was well — until my marriage fell apart.
Stage three: Hashing a new plan
Since our girls were now in school, I took a job as a nursing assistant at a nursing home. In those days, the nursing home trained nursing assistants and you didn’t have to be certified. As I worked, I watched the LPNs and RNs administer meds, care for wounds, give tube feedings, etc. “I can do that,” I’d say to myself.
I worked as a nursing assistant for a couple of years, then I was off to LPN school. To this day, I’m still friend with some classmates from that school. After finishing the program, I continued to work at the nursing home as an LPN and kept my eye on the RNs, observing and learning until I got my chance to become one of them.
I helped the RNs treat patients and do assessments. “I can do that,” I said to myself.
Stage four: Another shot at becoming an RN
Next, I entered an associate degree in nursing program at the Community College of Philadelphia (CCP). My experience as an LPN made clinicals easy. Unfortunately, I was dismissed from the program after I accrued too many absences when my daughter was hospitalized. According to the policy, if you missed a certain number of clinical days, you were out. The reason didn’t matter. I cried.
One of my instructors assured me I could return next semester. “This does not have to be the end,” she said. “You can come back.” I dried my tears and went home to nurse my child.
I returned the following semester and made it through — this time without a hitch. I passed the NCLEX for RNs in 1993. While my classmates took jobs in hospitals, I welcomed another baby girl with my second husband, Charles. He supported me through school and helped with the children. I love you, Charles.
I had two more kids and stayed home with them for a while. Later, I joined a nursing agency for the freedom and flexibility family needed. Nursing is in my blood, but my family always came first.
Stage five: From long-term care to trauma
The children are getting older. We wanted to buy a new dream house, so I took a full-time job at a major hospital. I became a staff nurse in the ortho-trauma unit caring for patients with gunshot wounds, broken limbs in traction, and all manner of trauma. I have to admit it was challenging, having spent most of my career in long-term care.
There were all kinds of bells and whistles going off all the time. Never a dull moment on this unit, but I loved the teamwork. I worked in this hospital for many years with my associate degree. But soon, there began to be whispers in the wind that hospitals were moving toward requiring bachelor’s degrees for nurses and were encouraging them to return to school.
I saw the writing on the wall and remembered what I wrote in my yearbook: “I will obtain my bachelor’s degree in nursing.”
Stage six: Crossing the goal line
I earned my BSN from Immaculata University in Immaculata, Pennsylvania! All of my classmates were licensed RNs. We weren’t required to do clinicals because we all had hours and hours of clinical experience. I received my BSN in 2010. Remembering my graduation always brings to mind Kool & the Gang’s “Celebrate.” “Celebrate good times, come on!” And, boy, did I celebrate. Finally, my yearbook vow had come to fruition. My dream had come true.
Stage seven: Why stop at my bachelor’s degree?
I’m older now. The ortho-trauma unit has given me experience and skills, but it was time for me to transition out and make space for the younger nurses. Let them get their hands dirty. I accepted a position in rehab. After working there for a few years, I passed the Certified Rehabilitation Registered Nurse test, and I’m still working on the unit today. I can definitely see myself retiring here, feeling fulfilled.
My manager supports and inspires me, my co-workers are a delight, and we all work well together. I love this unit and still get overjoyed when I see my patients’ progress and leave stronger than when they entered.
Since I was 6 years old, I knew that I wanted to help people. I accomplished what I set out to do. My road to becoming a nurse was bumpy, but that never deterred me. I thank God for allowing me to become one.
Nursing may not be glamorous, but I love it. I hope my story encourages others to never give up. Just remember, you can overcome any bumps in the road. You just have to keep going.
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