Tumultuous Times Helped Me Find My Path to Nursing

By | 2022-05-11T10:26:26-04:00 April 16th, 2021|2 Comments

Reflecting on my path to nursing is often difficult for me. My story is unique and unusual, but it is also why I celebrate my ambition and drive to do something impactful.

I remember what my life looked like the year before I decided to go to nursing school. My life was dysfunctional, chaotic, and I was not in a good place mentally or emotionally. I often felt hopeless, confused, and disappointed that my life was less than stellar.

I had dropped out of college, and I was not on the path that I started coming out of high school as an All-Star cheerleader and high performer. No, I wasn’t on drugs, nor was I a bad person. I was struggling with depression at that point in my life.

I was not prepared for the distractions that college gave to me. I lived a very strict life growing up, and it was hard to make good decisions because I was also a very curious person. I was introduced to different people, different ideals, different morals, and given the freedom to make my own choices.

I lost my discipline, my pride, and my sense of direction. I didn’t even recognize who I was when I looked in the mirror. It was as if I was an entirely different person. The year before I started nursing school, I was running away from who I was supposed to be, and I had no real answers as to how I became the person I saw staring back at me in the mirror.

My Answer Was in the Classifieds

When I was younger, I would read the newspaper with my grandparents. Then it just became a habit for me to read the classifieds each week and learn about new jobs. This was a habit that would prove to be very influential in my life.

One day, I ran across an ad for a certified nursing assistant program at the community hospital in the same town as the college I was attending. At that time, I had no steady income, and everything in my life was in jeopardy, so I jumped at the chance and decided to apply. I called the number in the ad and was told when to come to the human resources recruiting office to complete the application and take a math and reading assessment. I took this chance because by this point in time I had had so many jobs, that I was willing to learn how to do anything to survive. In high school, I was a cashier at KFC and McDonald’s, a summer camp counselor for the Department of Defense Youth Program, a youth mentor and tutor at the YMCA, and of course, a babysitter. I was confident that I would pass the assessment test, and of course I did.

The next step in my path to nursing, to my surprise, was a paid, 13-week training at a local health professional school with an opportunity for a full-time job at the hospital if I completed the training and passed the state exam. I didn’t have any money, but I did have a car, and my mother agreed to let me stay at home to complete the training and commute one hour and 20-minutes each way, five days a week.  I was just happy to be back in school, learning something new.

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

The next 13 weeks were brutal. The instructor for the class was a by-the-book retired nurse who cut no one any slack in the classroom. I had to study hard and be prepared each day for infamous pop quizzes and surprise teach-back tests. Training to be a nursing assistant was not as easy as it looked when I first started. I kept pushing myself, changing my habit of staying up late, and I started to focus on one thing – taking the state exam. This was my first positive introduction to nursing.

When I passed the state exam, instead of working at the hospital, I became part of the healthcare team that would open a new convalescent center. I got to work in this new facility and learned how things were put together – from the decorations to admitting patients. I had so much respect for the massive team that put this plan together, and without realizing it at the time, this part of my path to nursing changed the trajectory of my life for the better.

I had finally found a purpose to connect with. I had found a commitment to caring and to healthcare, and most importantly, a reason to return to the discipline of goal setting I once had. My story is just another example of how we may be at a point in life in which we don’t understand the enormity of our journey and may expect failure, but in the process we can find uncover success instead. That’s the beauty in trusting the process.

Do the Steps, Learn the Process

Beginning as a nursing assistant was Step 1 in my nursing journey. I was a CNA for over four years, and I could work and go to nursing school at the same time. I learned how to take care of many patients simultaneously, how to help the nurses prepare for their shifts, how to get ready for a facility visit from the state, and how to be a good listener and advocate for patients.

I worked in two different post-acute care and rehabilitation facilities and in home health for a short time. The best and most important skill I learned was communicating with my patients. The joy they have talking about their families, their friends, their lives, and especially laughing and listening to music. I am so fortunate and thankful to have finished every degree and every step in nursing, beginning as a certified nursing assistant, graduating from an associate degree program, completing my bachelor’s and master’s degrees and topping it all off with a doctorate.

I will always respect the lessons I learned as a nursing assistant, how tough it was during the training and the memories that were created when I was working hard and overcoming so many obstacles. Being a nursing assistant was my favorite role. I felt special. I had a family that I had didn’t have before, and I was motivated to go to nursing school. I was supported by the nurses and our leadership, and I felt like I could go and do anything after finishing that program.

Training as a nursing assistant was my first step in my path to nursing that broke me away from dysfunction and chaos. I am proud of the work I did, because it helped me earn the seat I have today as a Clinical Consultant and Subject Matter Expert of Nurse Behaviors.

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About the Author:

Alisha Cornell, DNP, RN
Alisha Cornell is an experienced nurse leader, clinical consultant, and nurse informaticist, who understands the role of executive nurse leaders as well as the impact of healthcare on the lives of nurses. Her combination of formal education and lived experiences provides a platform of inspiring others through self-awareness and a purpose driven life. Her commitment to impacting the lives of nurses through servant leadership is driven by her history of managing dynamic nursing teams and conquering life one day at a time. She is a strong advocate for improving self-care among nurses, equal access to healthcare in underserved populations, and improving community health education concerning mental health and social determinants of health.


  1. Avatar
    Abby May 29, 2021 at 12:10 pm - Reply

    Thanks for sharing your truly inspiring story. It’s really encouraged me to keep striving for greater paths in the healthcare industry.

    Stay blessed 🙌

  2. Avatar
    christine July 6, 2021 at 12:00 pm - Reply

    Your lived experience is truly inspiring to everyone who believes there is success when you have faith, hope and persistence.
    Thank you for sharing your story.

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