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Exposure inspires focus on Trauma & ICU

By Debby Wadsworth, Freelance Writer

Destinie Woodard, CNA

When Destinie Woodard was driving to her shift one Thursday evening in April, she didn’t anticipate anything unusual or life-changing. She worked as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) at a Banner Medical Center. While no shift was ever the same, she could expect a mix of new and established patients, all in stable condition, with each having their own unique needs. “I like that my shifts are never boring!” Woodard said. She loves being a CNA in the hospital, taking care of patients, watching them improve, and making a difference.

Before she left for work, Woodard called the hospital to see if there were any assignment changes. Covid-19 was all over the news, and they already had pandemic patients. Woodard ‘s concern was put to rest when she was told her assignment would be the usual – Outpatient Observation. Besides, pandemic patients were in the Covid-19 Progressive Care Unit (PCU) unit, which is a critical care unit, and one step lower than an Intensive Care Unit (ICU). CNAs were not expected to take care of critical care patients. In fact, “CNAs were not allowed on the Covid-19 unit.” Woodard said. The chance of her having to provide care for pandemic patients was zero.

Welcome to the Covid-19 PCU

Upon arriving at the hospital, Woodard was unexpectedly given a life-changing assignment. Woodard was told she had been assigned to the Covid-19 PCU. “They did not tell me until I got there,” Woodard said. “I was shocked.” Until now, CNAs had never been expected to take care of Covid-19 patients.” We had no training in critical care,” Woodard said. Yet she was supposed to do it without hesitation.

Woodard, shaken, listened to the justification. “The nurse said they were short nurses, and needed the CNAs to help with taking vitals, and things like bringing patients’ water,” Woodard said. With no time to sink in, she was taken to the Covid-19 Progressive Care Unit (PCU). “On the way to the unit, they stopped me and asked if I had an N95,” Woodard said. “Then they made me sign my life away.”

The nurse gave “A five-minute rundown on the types of Covid-19 patients, how to put on your mask, and how to take vitals,” Woodard said. Followed by a strict instruction, “Do not go into a room unless you have to.” Woodard felt up to the challenge, but at the same time a bit nervous. “I was not scared, but I was never trained at being on a higher-level unit,” Woodard said.

Whew, none were on ventilators

Initially, over ten patients were assigned to Woodard and her fellow CNA, who had 15 years of experience. They were a combination of Covid-19 and non-Covid-19 patients. “The patients I had ranged from COVID precaution patients to positive. None of them that I had, were on ventilators,” Woodard said. She saw symptoms related to breathing and temperature. “I saw shortness of breath mostly and fever spikes,” according to Woodard. “The patient’s overall were calm and scared at the same time. You can tell they were trying to be calm, but you could see there was obvious discomfort and I saw scared body language.”

Woodard and her coworker were concerned about spreading Covid-19 between patients. Together they approached a nurse about their concerns only to find her upset and crying. The nurse was crying because they were short nurses; she had to take care of two critical care patients at the same time. One had Covid-19 and the other a lung condition. “She (nurse) was scared of giving Covid-19 to the lung patient,” Woodard said.

Woodard calmed her down, they worked out that Woodard would take care of all the Covid-19 patients, and her fellow CNA would provide care for the rest. “I started with five Covid-19 patients, and then more came from the ER,” Woodard said. She turned to her faith in God for strength, bowed her head, and prayed each time she had to enter a patient’s room. “I did not want to bring it home, Woodard explained. “I live in a family of seven.”

Remembering a crisis from days past

The situation brought to her mind an event that had happened in nursing school. It is something she has never forgotten, and described it as follows: “My preceptor (fellow CNA & trainer) was not with me at the time when I went to go say goodbye to my last patient. I was talking to them, and all of a sudden, they stopped responding. I turned my head, and they were having a stroke right there in front of me. It was the first time I have ever witnessed anything like that. I am naturally calm in those situations, and I knew exactly what to do because I was taught well by my preceptor. That experience sticks with me to this day just because it was the first one I ever saw.”

Woodard finished her shift, went home, and thanked God she had survived. “It was an eye-opening experience,” Woodard said. The event gave her new inspiration for her nursing specialty at Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation, Arizona State University (ASU). She is a nursing student there earning a Bachelor of Science Nursing (BSN). “After seeing everything I have seen, I switched from wanting to pursue oncology in the future to now wanting to be a trauma and ICU (Intensive Care Unit) nurse,” Woodard said. “That is so needed right now. I have the courage and passion to put myself in that position.” Woodard said.

It took a few tries. “I aced it!”

Overcoming challenges is not new to Woodard. Over the last few years, she encountered a career-stopping education challenge on her way to applying for nursing school. The problem stemmed from not having passed the required prerequisite classes. “I have been to hell and back, with my education,” Woodard said. “I failed my anatomy and physiology twice, and an advisor told me not to be a nurse. I ended up taking the class a third time at another community college and aced it.”

Woodard’s victory over the pandemic came from her faith and inner strength. She also persevered because of the support, inspiration, and encouragement bestowed upon her. “My mom always said you are going to get in (nursing school),” Woodard said. “They (her mother and father) always told me you can be a nurse, even when I failed the class.” Her godsister, Diamond Zamora, an RN, has also been a source of strength. Zamora’s stories about going to Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation and working as an RN in Cardiac ICU greatly influenced Woodard’s decision to try health care and become a CNA. Plus, she mentioned one incredibly special professor.

The professor’s name is Deborah Hill, and she was Woodard’s instructor at East Valley Institute of Technology for the CNA program. “She cared about every student and made learning enjoyable,” Woodard said. “The professor (Hill) was the best I ever had.” Things she learned from Hill helped during that one frightful night in April.

Woodard does not regret it happened. For it became an unreplaceable teaching experience. She can draw from it both today as a CNA and in the future as an RN. “I honestly just love being in the hospital,” Woodard said. “I feel in my heart that I belong there, and it just feels right”. Woodard looks forward to becoming an RN, and moving to what she calls, “A higher scope of practice,” She said. “I will be able to do more!”

Try, try, try again

Niki Barnes, LPN, EMT, CNA, CMT

By Debby Wadsworth, Freelance Writer

What do you want to be when you grow up? It’s a question you probably been asked at least once, maybe by a teacher, counselor, or parent. Some kids will answer with a blank stare or “I don’t’ know” or a definite reply like “I will be an astronaut.” Did they become one?

A similar question usually comes up at some point in adulthood in the form of “Am I on the right course?” It happens because our interests change as we age, gain wisdom and experience. On average, a person will change careers seven times, with 12 jobs in their working lifetime (Bureau of Labor Statistics).

Are you questioning your course? Charles F. Kettering once said, “Keep on going, and the chances are that you will stumble on something, perhaps when you are least expecting it.”  His statement aligns with the path of Niki Barnes, a nursing student at Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation, Arizona State University (ASU). She knows all about try, try, try, again.

Look for clues along the way

Niki Barnes grew up in Fergus Falls, Minnesota, spending her time seeing doctors. “As a child, I spent a lot of time medically going to clinics and hospitals,” Barnes said. She remembers, “I liked how nurses made you feel.” She drew from those experiences and feeling when thinking about what she wanted to do after graduation. Barnes decided to become a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA). “I wanted to give it a try,” Barnes said. She earned her CNA license and went into the health care field after graduation.

Barnes worked as a CNA at a senior care facility in Chatfield, Minnesota. “I worked in a nursing home for a little over two years as a CNA,” Barnes said. She learned from the experience, “I really liked helping people.” But, despite enjoying the job, Barnes knew it wasn’t where she wanted to be. Her love of animals was also calling. She tried to find a way to help both animals and people. Barnes thought she had found it in a Veterinary Technician (Vet Tech) program.

“I left being a CNA to go to vet tech school because I thought I could combine two things I love – animals and helping people,” Barnes explained. “I figured I could help animals and comfort their owners at the same time.” Barnes was excited about all the opportunities, but alas, she found it was more than expected. “I could not handle it, watching animals die,” Barnes said. Disappointed, she thought about what interested her. Barnes remembered her interest in teaching from when she was a young age child and decided to pursue it.

Barnes earned an Associated of Arts from Minnesota State Community and Technical College in Fergus Falls, Minnesota. Shortly after, she started a teaching program at Bemidji State. While in the program, Barnes heard the local ambulance garage was offering an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) class. Her inner voice to help people in health care was calling as before. “I think that would be fun, and it would be a way to help people once again,” Barnes said.  She took the evening EMT class, gained her certification, and started volunteering as an EMT with the local ambulance service in Chatfield, Minnesota. The decision brought back some of the excitement and purpose she had lost. “You can make a difference in someone’s life like doing CPR, and bringing them back to life,” according to Barnes.

Problems come with relocation

In 2007 Barnes moved to Arizona at the request of her mother, who had moved there for a job. “I moved here (Phoenix area) from Minnesota when my mom said, “Will you come down here too.” After relocation, Barnes struggled with her inability to support herself financially. “When I got to Arizona, I had a hard time finding a job as an EMT,” Barnes said. Plus, she learned EMTs in Arizona only drive an ambulance. “I didn’t want to just drive an ambulance,” Barnes said. “I wanted to help people.”

Eventually, Barnes landed a job as an EMT with First Responder. “I got a job with First Responder and worked at arenas, baseball, basketball, concerts,” according to Barnes. She loved the warm fuzzy feeling she felt from working with people, but “The pay and opportunities for advancement weren’t there,” Barnes explained. But, there was hope because she was on the path to becoming a teacher. Barnes’s hope was broken when she was told by Bemidji State that continuing the teaching program was not possible. Students in the program had to preferably reside in close proximity to the school, or at least in Minnesota. Living in Arizona did not meet the requirements. Understandably upset, she tried to figure out what to do next. Then she found out about an opportunity with group homes in accounting.

Her job was to manage the money and purchase process for residents with things that they needed. She enjoyed helping people once again, both residents and coworkers, stepped in wherever she could, and worked extra shifts as a staff member for outside events like movies and going to the zoo. During her time there, a coworker endured a car accident that left her with neck pain. Barnes wanted to help and started massaging her coworkers’ neck to help alleviate the pain. Helping her coworker along with administering massages gave her that warm and fuzzy feeling she loved. Everything was going great until she was hit by an unanticipated layoff. Remembering how she felt when helping her coworker, Barnes decided to pursue a career in massage therapy.

“I went to school as a massage therapist,” Barnes said. It gave her the chance to help people, however, it would not pay the bills. She learned that scheduled for eight hours did not translate into paid eight hours. In the profession, massage therapists are only paid for the actual hours they give massages. In times like the summer months, “I could go all day without a massage,” Barnes said. “You couldn’t make a living at it.” Barnes decided it was time to find something else more lucrative.

Barnes heard over the radio an advertisement for temporary employees at Amazon. “It offered better than average pay, which was very important to me at the time,” Barnes said. She applied and started as a temporary employee. “I got a job at Amazon in outbound and doing the packing,” Barnes said. Over the next year or so, Barnes went back and forth between working for Amazon and Walmart while taking a few classes.

The desire to help people pulled at her again, and she felt it was time to return to health care. “Doing something medical was always in the back of my mind,” Barnes said. She contemplated going back to being a CNA, but being a CNA was not enough. “As a CNA, you only change people,” according to Barnes. “As a nurse, you hold people’s lives in your hand.” Barnes decided her next step would be attending nursing school but was concerned about paying for it.

A new source to pay for school

While at Amazon as a temporary worker, she saw a sign that said, “Career Choices,” and announced the company would reimburse employees for tuition. Barnes became overly excited because she saw it as a way to pay for nursing school. However, to be eligible, she had to become a “Blue Tagger”, an employee. Employees become eligible for tuition reimbursement after being with the company for one year. “I converted to a blue tagger to get help paying for my nursing school,” Barnes said.

After transitioning her status to employee Barnes applied. She was and was accepted by Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation at ASU. Barnes started the nursing program on weekends in January of 2019 while still working full-time at Amazon. “I finally found the place where I was supposed to be,” Barnes said. “You are helping people get through the most difficult time in their life, and you know you made a difference,” Her warm fuzzy feeling was back!

Covid-19 brought stress, but not from nursing

Barnes had been in nursing school for over a year when she left for Spring break in April. She was looking forward to the break. But everything was turned upside down when Covid-19 hit. Spring break was extended, the return to campus delayed, clinicals canceled, and classes moved online. For Barnes, the pandemic became a source of frustration, not because of nursing school changes, but the environment at work. Amazon became incredibly stressful. “I get stressed at work because you do not social distance,” according to Barnes. “I am vigilant about washing my hands and wearing a mask.”

In response to the pandemic, Barnes took an additional class to gain her Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) before graduating from nursing school with a Bachelor of Science Nursing (BSN) degree. Barnes did it because by getting her LPN, she would be able to get out in the workforce sooner and help Covid-19 patients. The decision closes the gap between graduation and licensure for new nurses, which is typically a few months.

Despite the pandemic creating chaos, Barnes said a few positive things have come from it. “It has put in the forefront of people’s minds how much you sacrifice as a nurse, the conditions, hours, and putting your life on the line to save theirs,” Barnes said. As a result, “I think nursing will become an even more respectable occupation.”

She’s where she’s supposed to be

Barnes, now an LPN, EMT, CNA, CMT has traveled a long way. “Everything in my journey has brought me where I am today, where I am supposed to be,” Barnes said. She has encountered many obstacles along the way and says they “came from wanting to make a difference, and not wanting to do something, to just do something.” Barnes added, “I got sidetracked by this and that and should have gone to nursing school right after CNA.” Around the time graduation in December of this year, Barnes wants to start working as an LPN helping Covid-19 patients while she tales her RN licensing exams. In the next few years, she sees herself going back to school and becoming a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA).

Using relocation to turn a dream into reality

By Debby Wadsworth, Freelance Writer

Ingrid Duarte

The dream of becoming a nurse to help people is a universal desire shared by nurses. What it takes to turn that dream into reality varies by individual. Each of us is unique, encountering our own set of challenges along the way to a career. Problems range from little bumps in the road to hills or even mountains.

Challenges come from various places like fears, events, academics, location, family, and many more. Maybe you have always had a fear of needles, because of an incident earlier in life. Or it could be that you struggle with not being able to help someone suffering in pain. For one aspiring nurse, Ingrid Duarte, challenges came even before she applied for nursing school. To make her dream a reality, she had to overcome both her family scared by Covid-19 and living in California.

Ingrid Duarte grew up in California with her mother and six siblings. Over the years, her mother repeatedly told her children, “To help others and make her contribution to society,” according to Duarte. “Be kind to people.” Her mother also served as a role model, exhibiting determination, and hard work. “She worked, went to school to get her teaching degree, and took care of us,” Duarte said.

Duarte’s upbringing has been influential throughout her life. “I have always known I wanted to help people since I was young,” Duarte said. “I remember hearing stories from my parents about their childhood.” Her parents came from humble beginnings, where they didn’t always have the best access to healthcare. “Since then I just knew I wanted to be a part of that change in my community,” Duarte said. Inspiration on how to help people came from her mother’s health issues, including diabetes and high blood pressure. The final trigger was a stroke. “My mom having a stroke in 2019 solidified nursing for me,” according to Duarte.

California was extremely competitive

Duarte started working toward her dream of becoming a nurse in California. But it was a nightmare. It seemed just about everyone over the age of 17 was trying to be accepted by nursing schools. The fierce competition made it seem nearly impossible. She thought there had to be another way and started looking for other options.

She liked the idea of relocating for nursing school. While she pondered what to do, her boyfriend relocated to the Phoenix area for a job. Soon after, Duarte’s boyfriend began trying to persuade her to move there too. Duarte remembers thinking, “Arizona is a state away from California, not as crowded, and things are slower.” Duarte also thought she would have a better chance of getting into nursing school.

Phoenix here I come!

Duarte decided she would move to Phoenix. She then convinced her sister and sister’s boyfriend to help. Together, they packed up her little two-door car, and Duarte went to say goodbye to her mother. The goodbye became more than she expected. “My mom didn’t believe I was going and did not want to say goodbye,” Duarte said. It took a while for her mother to accept it, all while questioning her daughter’s decision, and then they were off!

They arrived in Phoenix tired after the long drive, yet excited. Duarte felt the move would make it possible for her to become a nurse. She started settling in, looking for a job, and found one at a bank. Duarte also began taking classes in preparation for a nursing program. She earned a general associate degree, along with completing nursing school prerequisites. Shortly after that, she started looking at nursing programs.

“I wanted it (nursing program) to be something educational, but not just books and theory,” according to Duarte. “I want it to be real life, and see nursing practices in real life, not just something out of a textbook.” She liked what she saw at Arizona State University’s Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation and applied.

I never thought I would see a pandemic in my lifetime

Nursing school acceptance came in February of this year; at the same time, Covid-19 came onto the news scene. Despite the pandemic news, “I knew this was what I wanted,” Duarte said. “I never thought in my lifetime I would see a pandemic, or I could tell my kids this is what I saw.”  After contacting her mother with the good news about acceptance, her decision was once again challenged. “I remember my mom texting me the day I got into nursing school asking me ‘Are you sure, have you heard everything about Covid-19?’,” Duarte said. “There was no turning back.”

Since then, she has started nursing school and had only a few eye-opening experiences rather than challenges. One of them relates to her fellow students. “I was surprised by so many out of high school, and a lot of older people too who have been doing their career for 5, 10 years,” Duarte said. She also said it’s disappointing that most classes will continue to be online. “We were supposed to start in August, but now it will be all online with a small group for clinicals,” according to Duarte.

As for the coming months, she looks forward to trying all nursing specialties, especially obstetrics and pediatrics, and will decide after they are completed. Right now, she is interested in preventative care, wellness programs, to recovery. There is plenty of time to decide with her graduation planned for August of 2022. Duarte will graduate with an Associate Degree Nursing (ADN) from a community college, and Bachelor of Science Nursing (BSN) from Edson College. “Someday I’d also like to do some humanitarian work as a nurse in different states or countries,” Duarte said.

Nursing student drawn to infants, kids, families

By Debby Wadsworth, Freelance Writer

Cindy Czeto

If you walk into a hospital cafeteria during the typical hours for nurses’ breaks, it’s pretty easy to pick out which ones are in pediatrics. You might see a Sesame Street character like Elmo, Big Bird, or Cookie Monster on their stethoscope. Or maybe SpongeBob in their pocket. No matter what character it is, they all have one thing in common. A passion for kids and caring for them, regardless.

Not everyone has a gift for working with kids. I know because I spent a school year working with kids as a substitute teacher in elementary. It definitely was not my calling. But for someone like Cindy Szeto, “Working with kids and families has always been a passion,” she said. A passion Szeto is pursuing today as a nursing student at Arizona State University’s Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation.

Immigrant parents instilled helping people

Szeto’s interest in helping others came from seeds planted by her parents when she was young and growing up in Phoenix. “My parents have always encouraged me to help people and consider health,” according to Szeto. In her family, helping people has always been a way of life, from generation to generation. Her parents, who immigrated from China, were also encouraged to help others when growing up.

For Szeto, how she would help others as a career developed in high school. She found herself interest in nursing because of several factors. One was making a difference. “I want to make a difference, and health care is the way to do that,” Szeto said.

Another factor was her family’s health. “My dad used to be a heavy smoker. I realized how health care workers helped him quit smoking and kept him alive,” according to Szeto. “No one could have made him aware of the choices like health care workers.”

Yet another reason was because of so many options. “Health care has a variety of fields to go into,” Szeto said. “I want to be an advocate for kids and their families.” Caring for infants and children, which falls under the medical specialty of Pediatrics, has many specialties. Nurses can become:

  • Labor and Delivery Nurse – work with women during the delivery process.
  • Pediatric Nurse – provide care for children.
  • Neonatal/NICU Nurse – take care of newly and prematurely born infants in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).
  • Developmental Disability Nurse – deliver specialized care for children with mental and developmental disabilities.
  • Pediatric/PICU Nurse – provide care for babies, children, teens, with serious medical conditions in a Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU).
  • Palliative Pediatric Nurse – deliver care and support for terminally-ill children.
  • Pediatric Endocrinology Nurse – help children with a variety of endocrine disorders, including diabetes and thyroid disorders.
  • For her, labor & delivery is the most appealing one. “I hope to one day be a labor and delivery nurse,” according to Szeto. “I want to be an advocate for mothers and their children, especially for minority women that statically experience health disparities.”

    Pandemic affected her mindset and daily routine

    Why does Szeto love kids so much? She says it is because “I am similar to a kid, and they are fun to interact with.” Her journey to do just that has been hampered by Covid-19, but not stopped. For starters, “I like good routines, and following a schedule,” according to Szeto. “I was a bit shaken, going to online nursing without a routine.” But with a little time, she created a new routine and overcame it.

    The pandemic has also affected her mindset, being an Asian American. “It has affected my mindset, with the attacks against Asian Americans,” Szeto said, “I feel safer when I am at home.” She copes by going places where there are no people when out for a run. Although she is proud to be Chinese, Szeto also disguises her appearance with sunglasses, a mask, and a hat when she goes to stores to maintain her safety.

    Another Covid-19 disappointment was the cancellation of clinicals. They were something she was really looking forward to doing. Despite everything, she maintains her course and passion for becoming a Registered Nurse and helping people. Szeto is confident she will graduate in 2022 with her Associate Degree Nursing (AND) and Bachelor of Science, Nursing. Followed by, “Exploring the world and myself through travel nursing and start my adult life,” Szeto said. “I am excited for it.”

    Beth Oelkers

    By Debby Wadsworth, Freelance Writer

    Perseverance is a complex virtue. For some, it is a divinely inspired gift, while for others, it seems to be an inner strength. It feeds the tenacity and willpower felt in the face of challenges. When add to knowing what you want, where you want to go, and why, you become a powerful force for maintaining one’s course despite obstacles. Beth Oelkers, a nursing student in Scottsdale, Arizona, has the gift, inner drive, and focus to preserve in becoming a Registered Nurse (RN) no matter what life throws at her.

    She’ll be an RN – despite age

    Beth Oelkers has been interested in helping people all her life. She talks about it with a sparkle in her eye and a smile on her face. “There were two things I always wanted to do, teaching and nursing,” Oelkers said. Entering college at Purdue University, she thought long and hard about her two passions. Oelkers was torn between teaching and nursing. She looked to God’s guidance when making her final decision, and teaching won. Oelkers earned her undergraduate degree in education & special education, followed by earning a master’s degree. Her teaching career was off and running.

    For over ten years, Oelkers genuinely enjoyed her career, teaching in Texas, Indiana, and Arizona. “I taught Kindergarten, 2nd, 4th, 5th grades, and worked as a reading specialist,” Oelkers said. “I loved being in the classroom for many years, teaching them, seeing their light bulbs turn on.” Plus, she enjoyed one incredibly special year, when one of her Kindergarten students was her daughter.

    But into her second decade of teaching, her passion for it began to fade. Torn on what to do, she started having discussions about it with her husband. She decided to leave teaching. “I left when the paperwork got more daunting than the fun,” Oelkers explained. “I decided to come home to be with my kids in high school.” 

    During the years Oelkers was home, she spent a lot of time taking care of her parents. Her mother had a brain aneurysm, followed by a brain injury, and had to endure multiple surgeries. Little did she know the inner strength and faith her mother showed would become an inspiration for her in the coming years.

    The experience with her mother’s illness reignited her passion for nursing. “It made me realize I always wanted to be a nurse,” Oelkers said. She volunteered to work with high school students interested in the healthcare field, and her passion for nursing grew even stronger. “I remember sitting at home and talking it over with my husband,” Oelkers said. “He said, why don’t you do it. You have always wanted to, now what is stopping you?” After further thought, she concluded, “I felt I knew what I wanted to do, pursue my passion for nursing.” Oelkers explained. She had the support of her family, and could finally dedicate time to becoming a nurse.

    Driven with excitement nearly to the point of nearly being giddy, Oelkers started her journey to becoming a nurse. Oelkers knew she wanted to work in hospitals and began to investigate the requirements. She found hospital work for a nurse required a Bachelor of Science, Nursing (BSN) program. Oelkers also found to apply for a BSN program, she needed to become eligible.

    To be eligible for a BSN nursing program, applicants must have complete required prerequisite courses. It meant going back to school at 40 something. “Going back to school is hard,” Oelkers said. “I am used to being the teacher, not the student.” After a few sleepless nights, “I got the guts to walk into the first Anatomy and Physiology class, and it was rough being an older student,” Oelkers said. 

    Oelkers also began researching nursing schools. She selected, applied, and was accepted to the Concurrent Enrollment Program (CEP) at the Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation at Arizona State University (ASU). She chose ASU because she felt it had a great program, it was right there in the valley, and their people worked with her. 

    She’ll be an RN – despite a brain tumor

    While all of this was going on, the migraine headaches Oelkers had suffered from for years became worse. They grew in intensity to the point of her enduring severe untreatable pain 24/7. She knew something wasn’t right and made an appointment to visit a doctor. A long list of tests was completed including an MRI, and Oelkers waited on pins and needles for the results.

    Her husband accompanied her to the doctor’s office, which he normally didn’t do, to find out the results. Oelkers said she was glad he did, especially when the doctor began by saying I called you with the results but did not want to leave a message. Oelkers’s heart sank, and the rest of the visit became a blur as the doctor went on to tell them she had a brain tumor along with all the related details. She hoped her husband was listening as her thoughts were spinning.

    Having been hit with a devastating blow, it took her a while to grasp and accept it. She found strength in her faith, family, friends, and the inner strength her mother had shown when she endured brain surgery. They went to Barrow’s Neurological Institute for further tests. Her diagnosis was confirmed, she had the best of the worst in brain tumors, and the plan of care was to monitor the tumor growth, make changes in her medications and diet.

    After what she called a “pity party,” she once again drew from the inspiration of her mother, her own inner strength, faith, family, friends, and went on with her life the best she could. Oelkers was ecstatic about nursing school and looked forward to the adventure beginning. The idea of fulfilling her passion of becoming a Registered Nurse (RN) brought so much excitement and hope. Her enthusiasm was rattled a bit when she started her first day of nursing school. She remembers thinking, “Oh my goodness, what am I doing. These kids are going to be my kids’ age.” But her anxiety levels diminished as she met other students and started new friendships. 

    Faith, Inner Strength & Tenacity move mountains

    Her life was going great! She loved the school, her professors, advisor, and classes. Oelkers was well on her way to becoming an RN. Her family was doing great too, including a daughter in medical school, and a son working at Apple. But her bubble would soon burst when the severe headaches returned. This time they were even worse than before. Nothing the doctors could give her would deaden the pain.

    She was understandably upset, scared, and worried. It threatened everything including her life. She prayed with her pastor and drew from her faith in God, inspiration from her mother, inner strength, and family to endure what was ahead. But this time the doctors told them it was time to take the brain tumor out. She felt panic and her world was once again spinning out of control. Doctors talked about three procedures and wanted her to select one.

    This time she knew more what the doctors said from what she had learned in her anatomy class and nursing school. Her daughter was also there to fill in what she had learned from medical school. Together they decided to proceed with a Translabyrinthine Craniectomy. The procedure would enter her skull behind her left ear to extract the tumor. Of course, there were many risks involved like with any brain surgery.

    The worst outcome would be loss of life, followed by a long list of potential complications. There could be a stroke, seizures, swelling of the brain, nerve damage, impaired mental function, facial paralysis, infection, plus potential complications from anesthesia. In the end, she would also sacrifice the hearing in her left ear to ensure the neurosurgeon was able to get out all of the tumor.  

    Her mind raced as she tried to make sense of it all. What about her dream of becoming a nurse? She had to address that too in the midst of it all. Oelkers pushed away from the tears and made an appointment to meet with her advisor. Oelkers was in the CEP program and taking classes to earn her ADN at a community college, while at the same time taking classes at ASU for her BSN. If she had to take a leave of absence from the community college, she would have to do the same for ASU. Her advisor went to bat for her, and Edson College made her a special exception, so she was able to continue with her ASU coursework when she was ready.

    Despite having to deal with so many emotions and facing so many unknowns, Oelkers was hopeful. She put it in God’s hands and knew her family, friends, nursing school, and RN career would be there waiting for her. She endured the surgery and woke up with severe complications. “The first 48 hours were filled with nausea, and nothing worked to treat it,” Oelkers said. “The only way I can describe it is was like looking at a whiteboard that keeps spinning to the left and then right.” Within a few days of her week in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), the spinning went away. But she had many other complications to overcome. “This is beyond frustrating.” Oelkers said, “Everyone is scared I have brain damage.”

    She went home, started outpatient therapy, and drew strength from her faith, family, friends to persevere through it all. “I remember watching the Today Show and thinking wow they have so many misspelled words,” Oelkers said. “Then I remembered it was me. But I am so much smarter than this. I have a master’s degree!” She would try to have conversations, and simple words would not come. “I had to work to retrieve the words,” Oelkers explained. “I was terribly sad that I would not be returning too nursing school in January because I did not have the physical strength.”

    Second Time Saved Her Life

    Friends came to help, providing support, food, and more. Some days were terrible and others better. None were really good. Her daughter came to visit one day and noticed her incision was open. Her daughter, not knowing for sure what she was seeing, rushed Oelkers to Barrow Neurological Institute. It became the worst day yet, with the diagnosis of needing another brain surgery – the one thing she never wanted to go through again. At this point, Oelkers sunk to her lowest point. Would this ever be over, and would I ever become a nurse? It took a lot of prayers and support, but she pulled out of it, underwent surgery, and spent another week in the ICU. Then she had to start recovery all over again. But the second surgery became a blessing. She found out it stopped infection from setting in and saved her life.

    Oelkers went home for recovery left with some physical deformities that she wasn’t sure would ever go away. Her facial palsy was still there. “Eating was very messy,” Oelkers said. “I could not open my jaw very wide because they fixed part of my incision with my temporalis muscle.” Oelkers returned to her nursing studies online a little at a time. She started spending 15 minutes each day and worked her way up to several hours of online study.

    When she felt ready, she resumed her in-person classes and clinicals. Ironically, her daughter, a 4th-year medical student at University Arizona Phoenix Medical School, was doing clinical rounds simultaneously as Oelkers. They have not run into each other yet, but it is entirely possible. Oelkers said about her and her daughter, “We have great conversations that could clear a room.”   

    She’ll be an RN – despite Covid-19

    Life was back to as close to normal as possible, then Covid-19 hit, yet another obstacle. She finished her clinicals, went on Spring break, not to return. Colleges transitioned all classes to online learning, and clinicals were put on hold. But Oelkers stayed focused on persevering through it all as she had in the past. Each time she says to herself, “I think this is going to be the hardest thing ever, and I have to remember what I have already accomplished.” 

    The hardest part of Covid-19 for her has been understanding the public response to the pandemic. “What is most frustrating is when people think it is a hoax when doctors and nurses are working so hard to keep people alive,” Oelkers said. “If I can wear a mask to save a person’s life, I will wear a mask.”  

    When asked what her light bulb moments have been so far in her journey, Oelkers said, “How much harder it is than I ever thought it would be. I knew nurses worked hard, but I never realized how much they worked and cared.”  She also expressed her admiration for nurses. “I am not a nurse yet. I will be very proud to be a nurse and have those letters,” Oelkers said. Furthermore, “It’s a very amazing profession to be able to help people. I have always loved the nurses that helped me through my journey, and I hope to be like them.”

    Oelkers created a sign to encourage herself and placed it by her front door. It says, “Never be afraid of scars, it simply means that you were stronger than anything that tried to hurt you.” She looks at it for strength every time she leaves her house.

    Oelkers remains optimistic about the future. She continues to stay on course and relies on her faith, mother’s inspiration, inner strength, family, and friends. She will graduate in December of this year with her BSN and RN.  She says, “I chose to see the silver lining, the friendships I have made, and the relationships that have grown stronger because of it.”


    Families are relocating to ‘vaccinate’ their lives and improve work/life balance.


    By Debby Wadsworth, Freelance Writer

    In 2020, we witnessed work shifting, our pastimes altered, havoc with our social lives and separation from family and friends. Many Americans are now on an emotional rollercoaster and clamoring to get off. Many are looking toward relocation and location-proof stability for their new normal.

    Big Cities Losing Popularity

    Immediately after the Great Recession, Millennials flocked into big cities that created a period of growth and revitalization. But the growth bubble burst a few years ago when Millennials and older members of Generation Z started moving into smaller metro areas according to a report by William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution.

    The three largest metropolitan areas of New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago have experienced population losses over the past several years. Even slightly smaller metro areas, like Houston, Washington, D.C., Miami, have been affected by the trend. The first city on the list of top 10 metro areas people are relocating from is New York, New York according to Redfin.

    The 10 Top Areas People Are Moving From
    • New York, NY
    • Los Angeles, CA
    • Chicago, IL
    • San Francisco, CA
    • Washington, DC
    • Miami, FL
    • San Diego, CA
    • Seattle, WA
    • Albuquerque, NM

    2020 has boosted an already growing relocation trend. According to a Harris Poll, nearly a third of Americans are considering moving to less densely populated areas. For Millennials, 73% said they want to move in the next 10 years. According to Frey, the trend began in the mid-2010s with millennials and older members of Generation Z who were increasingly choosing smaller metro areas like Tucson, Ariz.; Raleigh, N.C.; and Columbus, Ohio.

    2020 Fuels Relocation

    Millennials are getting older and entering the next stage of life — marriage, kids, and job promotions. A 2018 survey of 1,200 adults aged 20-36 from Ernst & Young revealed that more millennials are buying homes in the suburbs than in cities. Gen Y is beginning its exodus too, just like the generations that came before it. They are leaving because of skyrocketing rent, interest in better schools, and finding more family-friendly amenities.

    2020 has given them one more reason to move — health safety. Americans are looking for less densely populated places according to Retinectomy’s housing migration report for Q4 of 2019. For Americans, Phoenix is first on the list of the places where people are moving. Millennials have Dallas, Texas at the top of the list, followed by Houston and Austin, Texas, then Phoenix, Arizona, according to US News & World Report.

    The Top 10 Metros People Are Moving To
    1. Phoenix, AZ
    2. Sacramento, CA
    3. Las Vegas, NV
    4. Atlanta, GA
    5. Austin, TX
    6. Dallas, TX
    7. Portland, OR
    8. Tampa, FL
    9. Boston, MA
    10. Nashville, TN

    Many Are Placing More Of An Emphasis on ‘Life’ in Work/Life Balance

    Millions of working adults are reevaluating their careers during 2020 and are ‘re-skilling’ to ensure they can adapt to life after the vaccine is introduced. A study of adults found that 39 percent of respondents are considering changing careers according to PeopleCert. People want to avoid another ride on the emotional rollercoaster and trying to increase their odds of having work life balance.

    Many employers are open to people reskilling and even helping them switching careers. For instance, recently, Amazon announced a $700 million program to reskill 100,000 of its U.S. based employees in healthcare, machine learning, manufacturing, robotics, and computer science

    68% Of Millennials Want To Work From Home

    With new careers come new work location choices. Sixty-eight percent of Millennial job seekers say a work from home option would greatly influence their interest in working for a company, according to a recent study by Fundera. Regular working at home, among the non-self-employed population, has grown by 173% since 2005, according to March 2020 report from Global Workplace Analytics.

    Health Care Careers Shine In This “New Normal

    For families seeking work-life balance, health care and medical careers have the highest odds for work life balance. It is estimated that five health care workers are needed for every moving truck that arrives to a city bursting at the seams from relocation. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, this sector accounts for six of the top ten categories for the highest projected job growth through 2024.