A Dream Deferred: At 52, Carrington Grad and Longtime Clinical Medical Assistant Patricia Romo Becomes a Registered Nurse

When Patricia Romo launched her career as a Clinical Medical Assistant at age 20, she dreamed about returning to school one day to become a Registered Nurse. “It’s something I always planned to do at some point, but life just got in the way—and time passes quickly,” says Patricia, now 52. More than three decades after earning her CMA certificate, her goal recently became a reality. The Tuscon, Arizona resident graduated with her Associate Degree in Nursing from Carrington in March 2023. She received two job offers and will soon begin working as a Registered Nurse in the telemetry unit at Northwest Hospital in Tucson. “Some people might hear my story and think it took me a long time,” Patricia says. “But timing is everything. We’re all ready for different challenges at different times. I feel like everything has happened just the way it was supposed to, and that I’ve completed my degree right on time.” We talked with Patricia about her experience at Carrington, the challenges of returning to school, and how she overcame the self-doubt that nearly derailed her dream.

You worked as a Clinical Medical Assistant for 30 years. What inspired you to return to school and pursue your Associate Degree in Nursing?

I often thought about returning to school but juggling a family with three kids, a full-time job, and school seemed overwhelming. And it wasn’t like I ever hated what I was doing. I actually loved being a Clinical Medical Assistant. I knew I was capable of more, but I was afraid. Self-doubt often got the best of me. Whenever I thought about returning to school, I would talk myself out of it. Fortunately, I got a lot of encouragement over the years from doctors and nurses I worked with to take the next step in my career. Everyone I worked with kept asking me ‘What are you still doing here?’ My bosses and coworkers were always telling me I should go back to school to become an RN. I finally chose to believe them.

How did you hear about Carrington? What motivated you to enroll?

I was enrolled in an online program at another college and was completing some nursing program prerequisites, but I wasn’t happy there. One of the other students told me about Carrington and I called that afternoon to learn more. I visited the campus, liked what I heard and saw, and decided to apply.

How would you describe your experience at Carrington?

For me, it was an incredibly supportive environment and a great fit. I not only left the program with knowledge and experience, I left with a big boost in my self-confidence. I had three instructors who were especially encouraging and supportive. When you know there are people who believe in you and are rooting for you, that makes a difference. I remember one especially tough day. I started questioning my brain power. My instructor pulled me aside and reminded me that if it was easy, everyone would be doing it. We also talked about different study strategies that might be helpful. Little interactions like that one can give you a real boost when you need it most.  

What was it like to return to the classroom?

I started during the worst of Covid, so we were doing our classes online. I saw other students in little boxes on my computer screen, and it was obvious they were younger. But when we started in-person classes on campus, that’s when it really hit me: most of these people are younger than my kids! I was by far the oldest student in our class. There was a moment when I asked myself ‘What are you doing?’ I soon realized the age difference wasn’t important and that, in some ways, my years of experience as a CMA actually gave me an advantage. My biggest challenge at first was retaining the information I studied. Once I developed some better study habits and techniques, the process was much easier. I was also working full time during my first year of classes, and that was tough. My husband encouraged me to quit work and focus on the program, which turned out to be the right decision.  

What do your husband and kids think about seeing you becoming a registered nurse at 52?

I think of what I’ve accomplished as a family achievement. My husband and kids believed in me when I sometimes didn’t, and they’re all very happy to see me accomplish something I set out to do. My daughter is 30 and my sons are 24 and 23. I don’t necessarily think of myself as a role model, but I hope they look at their mom and see that they can accomplish anything if they’re willing to do the work to make it happen. I took my time, but I never gave up—even though there were a few times when I thought about it!

What do you see for your future? What would you like to be doing ten years from now?

My plan is to continue my education and earn my masters degree in nursing. I want to continue learning and advancing my career. The hospital where I was just hired offers tuition assistance and educational incentives, so I’m looking forward to using those benefits.  

What would you say to someone who might be thinking about returning to school to become a nurse?

I would tell them the medical field is fascinating and that they’ll learn something new every day. The information and technology is constantly changing, so you’ll never be bored. I would also tell them what so many people told me over the years: you deserve to live your dream and you’re capable of more than you realize. Fear is rarely our friend and change is rarely easy, but there’s something very exciting about breaking out of your comfort zone and doing whatever it takes to achieve your goal. It’s not always easy, but it’s always worth it!

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