Shawna Alfano has always been inspired by nurses, so several years ago she decided to go back to school to get on a career path that would hopefully lead to qualification as a registered nurse.
Shawna graduated the Vocational Nursing program at the Carrington College California Antioch campus in October 2011. She is now enrolled at Holy Names University in Oakland from where she hopes to earn her bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN) in 2014.
Born, raised, and still a resident of Brentwood in northern California, Shawna is married with 2 beautiful daughters, aged 15 and 8. While she now finds herself firmly on the path to the career she’s always wanted, Shawna hasn’t taken a ‘traditional route’ to get here.
“I was a mom at 17, when I was a senior in High School, so college wasn’t an option then. I went straight to work at UC Berkeley at 18. I ended up working in Faculty Recruitment with no degree; I lucked into an assistant job and then just worked my way up over the next 6 years. But as I got older, and more settled in my life, I realized that I wasn’t a desk person. I wanted to directly help people; that’s when I decided I wanted to go back to school and become a nurse.”
Nursing was a career that Shawna had always felt she was destined for, a profession that unfortunately she grew to admire at far too early an age.
“I had a really bumpy childhood, it wasn’t a good upbringing; there were a lot of nurses along the way, literally, who stepped in and helped my family. If it wasn’t for those people…I don’t know. I was inspired by them; they helped my brother and I get through a lot of things we went through as children.
When I got older and my husband and I were financially stable, it hit me that if I was going to go to nursing school, I needed to do it while I was still young. I have a daughter who’s going to be going to college herself in a few years. I wanted to be finished by that time so we would be able to afford to send her to one of the best schools. She’s a great kid and she deserves it. I wanted to inspire her that, even at my age, I could still do it – even if I did it backwards so to speak.”
Once she made her decision, Shawna decided to enroll in the nursing program at a local school.
“I enrolled at a junior college in Brentwood in 2005, but I was fighting the fight to get classes. It was taking me forever to get the pre-requisites to apply to their RN program because of budget cuts. I was going in circles there for almost 4 years; I had pretty much all the classes I needed for an associate’s degree but just couldn’t get into a couple of the classes that I really needed. I was frustrated and had to make progress, so I decided to find a bridge program, get a student loan, and go that route.”
Shawna looked at three vocational nursing (LVN) schools in the East Bay area, of which Carrington College California – Antioch campus – was one. After careful consideration Shawna decided on Carrington, as it had several attributes that were important to her.
“I reviewed the pass rates, that was one big thing. And when I went through the testing phases, they gave us background on the LVN instructors. They were all established Bay Area RNs with master’s or bachelor’s degrees, and they had experience in pretty much all facets of nursing – that was another big thing for me. They were definitely superiorly educated, and they actually turned out to be some of the best teachers I’ve ever had.”
The fact that Vocational Nursing was an accelerated program was also important, especially after the frustration she had endured in previous years. In fact Shawna was pretty shell-shocked when she started the program due to the pace of the work, plus they moved during her first semester – not ideal timing!
During her 18 months at Carrington College California, in addition to the nursing skills she learned, Shawna went through something of a personal journey of discovery.
“I learned to evaluate who I was and understand myself. There’s a process you go through in LVN school, and in RN school too, where you have to learn to understand yourself and where you stand. You need to go through that process to be non-biased and non-judgmental as a nurse. It’s hard to evaluate yourself, because it means you have to make adjustments.
I was guided through that process by several faculty on multiple levels; I learned that I was a perfectionist and that I couldn’t continue to be so hard on myself. I had to go through some very challenging moments in school, where I questioned whether or not I could do it. I thought to myself that this is just LVN school, will I even make to RN school? And if I do, will I be able to make it through and finish? If those teachers hadn’t been there for me, honestly I probably would have quit.”
Shawna was very honest in her anticipation of what she expected when she came to Carrington College California, and her expectations weren’t high…
“I have to say that I didn’t know what to expect going in. I thought to myself ‘this is a vocational school, how good can this place really be?’ I probably went into the program a little pessimistically at first. But once I got into it I realized that the teachers I had in front of me did really care. I know for a fact that there were times when they could have just cut ties with me and walked away, but they didn’t.
I’m not saying it was perfect, nothing is perfect. There was some disorganization at times, but you know what, when there was a problem they rectified it. They did what was right.”
Now at RN school, Shawna is an LVN and staff manager for a dermatology surgeon in Walnut Creek, CA. She got the job just after gaining her LVN license and has been there almost a year. She has a personal interest in dermatology, and the office is very supportive of her continuing studies. In fact she intends to keep working there, probably in a part-time capacity, once she gets her RN license.
“I’m definitely going to stay involved in dermatology, because as an RN I’ll get to assist in surgeries and that’s lots of fun! But I’d also like to explore working in a hospital, to check out some different departments and see what I like the most. I definitely have an interest in psychiatrics and mental health, maybe working with children in disheartening domestic situations, as my own was.”
We asked Shawna to offer some advice, based on her own experiences on the LVN program.
“I would tell students to take it day by day, and don’t be too hard on yourself. Don’t become overwhelmed by looking at the big picture. Be prepared to work hard; there’s no easy way around that kind of program. It’s just a hard program.
It’s also huge to have some foundation and support. I wouldn’t have been able to do any of this without the support of my husband and my mom. But honestly I owe Carrington for where I am now; they made it possible, they wrote letters of recommendation, I owe the school a lot.”
Thanks for your time Shawna, good luck with your continuing education; we’re sure that you’ll go on to help a lot of people in your nursing career.
For comprehensive consumer information on our Vocational Nursing program, visit carrington.edu/degrees/practical-nursing/
Program availability varies by location.