Working as a front-line nurse during the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t easy, but Melissa Rios – who graduated from Herzing University’s Orlando campus in December 2018 with her Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree – is used to facing challenges. She had to overcome multiple obstacles to become a Medical-Surgical Telemetry Orthopedic Nurse at Advent Health in Orange City, Florida.
We talked with Melissa to learn more about her experience as a nursing student, advice she has for others who want to pursue their dreams of becoming a nurse and what it’s like treating patients during a pandemic:
What inspired you to pursue a career in nursing?
I originally pursued my bachelor’s in anthropology, but I never found a position after school and instead worked in a call center. I always knew deep down that I wanted to be a nurse. However, I never thought I’d be cut out for it because I was diagnosed with a learning disability at a young age and learned at a different pace. I felt the odds of becoming a successful nurse were against me and I let my disability control my career aspirations. I knew in my job at the call center, I’d never be able to help people in the way that I’d always hoped. I came home one day after work and said to myself “If I fail, I fail. I want to follow my passion. I’m not going to let my learning disability determine my future” and I quit my job to start nursing school.
What were some challenges you encountered during nursing school and how did you overcome them?
Nursing school is unlike any other educational program – it isn’t black and white and requires a unique way of thinking. That was something I struggled with. However, Herzing helped a lot. The professors truly care for their students. For me, Herzing-Orlando nursing professor Alina Ruiz was my biggest cheerleader and helped prepare me to become a registered nurse (RN). Throughout my time at Herzing, I felt like I could reach out to any professor if I needed help. Herzing became my family.
Halfway through my nursing program, I failed a class. Instead of letting that define me, I leaned on my Herzing nursing family, read books, and reviewed thousands of practice questions until my brain couldn’t absorb any more information. Only then I began passing my classes and acing my exams. Herzing gave me the push I needed to succeed.
What was your clinical experience like?
My clinical experience was extremely diverse. I had clinicals in a nursing home, rehab center, and multiple units in a couple of different hospitals including labor and delivery and transplant. I was able to get experience with many different specialties to help me decide where I’d want to work in the future.
What was the transition like going from nursing student to nurse?
The first six to 12 months of my nursing career were the absolute hardest. In my first year, I learned what to do, what not to do, which medications do what, what to prioritize for my patients and etc. I relied on my experiences at Herzing to fully and confidently transition from student to real-life nurse.
What has it been like working as a nurse during COVID-19?
I never thought I’d be a nurse during a pandemic let alone work directly with those patients. Overnight, my team had to prepare for something no one could prepare us for. Because the floor I worked on was the best floor space-wise, my manager volunteered to become the designated COVID-19 floor. At first, I didn’t want to work in that unit because I was scared, but I mentally prepared myself for the unknown. We had mandatory meetings to review protocols, including what we needed to recycle for our safety and what we should expect. Policies change every hour. It hasn’t been easy, but I will carry this knowledge and experience with me for the rest of my career. I owe so much of the basics and critical thinking skills I learned to the professors and my education at Herzing and to my peers who helped me get through school when I didn’t believe in myself.
What advice do you have for students who want to pursue a career in nursing?
I have several pieces of advice for those wanting to start a career as a nurse. First, do your research when selecting an institution. Choose a school that’s fully accredited and take the time to talk to people who have been there. Second, find a support system. You’re going to need the consistent support of friends and family to get you through school. Third, find time to sleep. Nursing school is a ton of work, but without proper sleep, you won’t be able to face its challenges. And finally, don’t let failure discourage you. Let any failure be fuel to your fire and return to your classes, assignments and exams with a vengeance.
What’s next for you career-wise?
Right now, I plan to allow myself to grow and learn in my career. Eventually, I’d like to get my master’s in nursing leadership or nursing education.
If my story inspires even one person to chase their dream of becoming an RN, that’s one more caring heart in the world that we could all use.