Finding Purpose in Nursing: Amanda Herrera’s Healing Journey

Amanda Herrera did not start out with a vision to work in the medical field, but two potentially fatal health crises, her caring nature and family encouragement eventually took her there. She spent 15 years in start-and-stop education steps toward a nursing career and on seemingly endless waitlists for nursing programs. She found a shorter path and everything she needed to become a qualified Registered Nurse at Carrington College. The hard part now was balancing work and a family of five with her vision of becoming a Registered Nurse. But once she finally found the program that could get her to her career goal, there was no turning back.

What first inspired you to become a Registered Nurse (RN)?

I worked as a marketing manager for the last three years of the 20-years I worked in the casino industry, and I wanted to do something different. But before I could make a change, I found out I had breast cancer (2006). My youngest son, Emiliano, was just three months old when I started chemotherapy; I couldn’t even breast-feed him. There were complications when a surgeon punctured my lung and artery and I had to have heart surgery. My body didn’t heal well because I was still on aggressive chemo treatment. It was a lot. But I got to see close-up what a medical career would be like and I was drawn to that.

Did you have second thoughts about pursuing a medical career?

One of the reasons I decided to become a nurse is because my nurses were so amazing. You see a doctor for five minutes, but nurses are always there. They would tell me, ‘You should be a nurse. You have a great personality and are really good with people’. Us patients would be in our chairs to have chemo and they would tell me that there was a big burst of positive energy when I would come in there.

What stood in the way of becoming a Registered Nurse?

We used all our savings because of cancer, so we were in no position for me to think about education for a new career. When we finally got back on our feet and everything was stable, I told myself I should do this before I’m too old. My husband, Rick, and our kids (Harley, KeAnna and Emiliano) were very supportive.

What were your greatest struggles to get your Registered Nurse education and training?

I’d gotten my pre-reqs for nursing and a degree in math and science at community college, then got put on a waiting list for the nursing program. What really got me was that people I was tutoring got ahead of me and were chosen. It’s the luck of the draw for hundreds of applicants for full classes. I’d had two years of pre-reqs and two years of waiting. I decided to check out Carrington College and other nursing schools. When I met with my Enrollment Services Representative at Carrington, she told me that a lot of my credits would transfer to their ADN (Associate Degree in Nursing) program, I thought, “I’m just going to do it! I was tired of wait lists.”

What was the best thing about your ADN program?

I love my clinical instructors; they’ve all been amazing! And the clinical studies out in the field. That’s where you really have to apply everything you’ve learned in class. You are assigned a nurse at each facility who observes you doing what you’ve learned like drawing blood, patient ambulation and other physical procedures. It was a very valuable experience. I had no problem getting help with anything I’ve needed from instructors. When I’ve needed support, I’ve gotten it.

What was your greatest difficulty?

I didn’t pass an exam – and I’ve never not passed anything. Because the ADN program can be completed in as few as two years, start to finish, we have to work hard. This is probably one of the hardest things I’ve done in my life. I’ve missed birthday parties, weddings, funerals – I’m not even asked any more. But this is also one of the most important things I can do for my family. And I’ve always accomplished anything I’ve put my mind to.

Did you have support at home?

I have good home support. My youngest is autistic, so I knew I couldn’t have done this when he was younger. And my kids know that if the door to my study is closed – not to bother me. My daughter (KeAnna, 19) has been stepping up a lot to represent me at family occasions.

What other responsibilities do you shoulder?

I am a student employee at Carrington College, working flexible 20 hours a week. I do clerical work, help in the Student Success Center and work with students who need help with iPads®, uniforms, navigating the computer or making copies and answer questions.

Do you have a ‘peak moment’ in your program experience?

My ah-hah moment was when I saw my first cesarean. The way everybody worked together in the operating room; you hear what your instructor told you in your head, but then you have that ah-hah moment when you see it in motion and think, ‘Oh, that’s what she meant’. It’s like that with every clinical experience: you remember what you learned in class and now you see it – and really get it.

Where did you get your inspiration to complete the Associate Degree in Nursing program?

I just want my kids to see me finish. They’ve seen me cry, doubt my decision – my husband, too. Sometimes I get down, get quiet – and I’m not that kind of person. My coworkers notice too. From the front desk to the Student Success Center, they’ve become part of my family, my support system. And for other students, too. They know when we have a test coming up and might bring in snacks or cookies.

What keeps you going when things feel too difficult?

I go into hospital rooms and a patient remembers me from the previous week and says, “I was wondering when you were going to come back.” I get a lot out of helping people. At fifty-one I’m an older student and I’ve seen people die before; everything you’ve ever had or touched will not be here forever. I’ve seen a young girl with cancer, sitting next to me, getting chemo; she died. But when she came in, she would laugh and make everyone feel better during the time she was here on this earth. That makes me feel better. That’s my calling.

What advice would you give other students in your field of study who struggle?

There is always something that can bring you down – but don’t stay in that moment. You have all this time to make your life better, and it does get easier…and then there’s another struggle. Hold that visual of you in the process of going forward. Do that and everything comes together.

Do you have a measurement of success for your efforts?

I just can’t wait to get to the Pinning Ceremony when we take our Nightengale Vow. You say it in front of everybody to “do no harm”. You see instructors crying and it really gets to your heart. I’m looking forward to getting into my field and working with patients.

Is there a medical specialty you are interested in?

I think I want to go into dialysis. We have such an epidemic of diabetes in New Mexico. I went on tour of a facility and really like working with those dialysis machines and having a huge impact on people with liver problems, pancreatic cancer, etc.

What is your vision for the future?

I want to build the house I wanted before I had cancer. I may not have a lot of time in this profession, but I want to do the most good with whatever time I have left. I’ll get my Bachelor’s (degree) for sure. I don’t give myself timelines, I just look at what I need to accomplish and make a start. I’ve always been able to do what I’ve set my mind to. Getting my BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing) degree is in my future, and I’ll get it done.

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