Cathy's Journey to Becoming a Nurse


Cathy Parkes shares a heartfelt and personal journey into her nursing career. Becoming a registered nurse is Cathy's second career. Prior to that, she was a computer science engineer and even though the salary was great, she wasn't fulfilled. Cathy talks about formulating her new path, volunteering at a hospital and after more deliberations, deciding to become a nursing student. She talks about balancing family life while taking pre-requisites at a junior college just to be able to apply for a nursing program. The nursing school she chose required her to take an entrance exam.

Once she was admitted to an accelerated 2 year nursing program, things did not get easier. Studying for nursing exams was hard and she spent many hours discovering better ways to memorize and master the material. This is a story about personal grit and determination and could be helpful for aspiring nurses, whether you want to become a registered nurse or a nurse practitioner. She even includes many helpful tips about starting your career and maximizing your nursing salary and nursing career satisfaction.

Full Transcript: Cathy's Journey to Becoming a Nurse

Okay. In this video, I want to talk a little bit about why I became a nurse. So as some of you may know from some of my previous videos, this is a second career for me. So I used to be a computer science engineer. So I graduated a long time ago with a computer science engineering degree, and I went to work for Procter and Gamble as an IT manager. So I worked there for about seven, eight years, and the salary was great. I did really well in my role, but it was just kind of boring. I spent a lot of time in meetings or on conference calls or behind a computer. It was very sedentary. At one point during one of my assignments, I gained a whole bunch of weight just because I'm sitting down all the time, working long hours. Or I'd be in a meeting and they would have donuts or bagels in the middle of the table, and I'm trying to stay awake. So I'm just eating not because I'm hungry, but because it's there and I'm kind of bored. So it wasn't the healthiest thing. It was great money-wise and great benefits, stability, all of that. It just didn't really feed my soul. And health-wise, it was sedentary and I was eating more than I should have.

So anyway, I was there for about seven, eight years. I got pregnant. I got really sick when I was pregnant with hyperemesis. So I ended up on disability. And right around that time we moved to Austin, Texas, and I had kind of two kids back to back with hyperemesis with both. And I ended up just taking a package and leaving Proctor and Gamble because there was really no Procter and Gamble facility in Austin, Texas, and I was wanting to be home with my kids for a little bit. So I was a stay-at-home mom for quite a few years. And after a while, I decided that I really wanted to go back to work, but I really didn't want to go back and do an IT job again. I had always had a strong interest in health and wellness. After I had kids, I had started to develop a lot more healthy behaviors. I was pushing them in a double jog stroller, eating healthier, just being more aware of health and wellness. And I was trying to think of a new type of career path that might be more interesting. So I had a couple of friends who are nurses and they were kind of telling me about their job and some of the flexibility in terms of being able to do part-time or full-time. You can do nursing from anywhere. You're helping people. You're educating people on health and wellness. It sounded really ideal.

So I did kind of interview a number of my friends, and then I brought the idea to my husband about going back to school for nursing, which maybe didn't go over so great at first. I have this whole other degree and a career path that was already working. So basically, going back to nursing school would be like starting over. I was going to need to take tons of prerequisites because the classes I took in engineering school had nothing to do-- I didn't even take biology. Right? I had to start with bio 101, physiology, anatomy. Because my classes were so old I had to take, if I was deciding to go down this path, critical thinking. I had to take a statistics class even though I was an engineer. It was going to take a while. It's going to take two years with prerequisites, and then there was an accelerated bachelor's program I was looking at, and ultimately went to, that was going to be an additional two years. So we're talking about a four-year commitment to change my career. So he wasn't really giddy to start off with. But in the end, he was totally supportive. I mean, so my husband's amazing. Right? He's an amazing guy. And in the end, he just wants me to be happy, and he wants to support whatever it is I need to do to be happy. So although he wasn't giddy he came around and was definitely supportive.

So before I just dove headfirst into this new path, I decided to kind of dip my feet in a little bit. So I took a couple of prerequisite classes at my local community college. And I also started volunteering at the hospital to make sure this was the right path for me because of the huge commitment that I would have to make to take this path. So it had been a long time since I had been at school, and my last experience with school was engineering school, which was really not fun at all. So I wanted to make sure that I was down for going to school all over again for four years. So I did. I went back and took biology and a couple other classes or maybe one other class, and it was hard. Right? Just spinning up, I could feel the cogs in my brain firing up again. But here was the difference is the stuff I was learning in biology was super interesting. It was hard. I remember when we were talking about citric acid cycle, and anyway, it was a lot, and I was just like, "Whoa." I had to read that chapter like five times and watch YouTube videos and everything to grasp the material. But it was interesting and that was the key difference between going back to school now and back when I was an engineer. I was super not interested in that stuff. Somehow I made it through. But this time around, it was actually really interesting material. So I had a professor. His name was Mr. Pentek, or Dr. Pentek, and he goes by Joseph. Anyway, he was huge. I went and met with him, and he was such a huge help to me. He would explain things over and over in a way I could understand. I went to all his office hours. He's one of the best instructors I've ever had. He actually came to my graduation from nursing school, my pinning ceremony, later on.

So anyway, so the classes were going well, hard but interesting, and volunteering at the hospital was also really helpful to know that this was the right path for me. I really like the community at the hospital. I'm still at the same hospital that I volunteered at, and it's a really special hospital. It's just really great people who really care about patients, and they're just fun to be around, and they're nice. And I love the community there. As a volunteer, it's hard because you're not really allowed to do a lot of stuff. So you're making beds, you're fetching stuff, but you can't do as many hands-on things. So that was hard. I really wanted to do more, but I couldn't as a volunteer. So anyway, I volunteered for about two years. During those two years, I also went to school and got my prereqs done, and that was hard. Probably the hardest prereq was anatomy because of all the memorization. It was crazy. So physiology was easier for me, but I got through it. I knew I had to kill my prereq classes because my GPA from engineering school was not the best, and I was going to get dinged on some points for that. So I knew I had to kill my prereqs and I had to kill my TEAS exam and do really great on all of that. So I did. I put in a lot of work and I did really well on all those.

So I did get into the accelerated bachelor's program at Cal State San Marcos, and that was two years in length. And I have to be honest that along the way the classes were super interesting. I loved helping to care for patients, but it was overwhelming, as I'm sure you guys can understand. The volume of information that you have to know in nursing school, it's overwhelming. And at the time I have my husband. I have two kids. When I was going to nursing school, they were around 12, 13 years old, and it was a tough time. And it was really hard on my family, my husband, my kids, and it was hard on me and I really doubted the path, like, "What am I doing?" But I kept going. And then as I was in nursing school, I began hearing how hard it is to get that first job as a new grad nurse and that if you want to get that first job, you really have to get your foot in the door at a hospital that puts a priority on internal candidates. So I was working as a volunteer at my hospital and they told me, "Yeah. We love you as a volunteer, but that's not going to help you get your foot in the door. You have to be an employee." So I took a job, a part-time job, as a transporter at my hospital, and worked part-time while I was going to an accelerated bachelor's program for nursing while I was trying to care for my family the best I could. My husband really did the heavy lifting there for sure.

So I worked part-time as a transporter. And now as an employee, I was actually able to do things for the patient and get my hands on. So that was really nice. Being a transporter is exhausting, and it was hard to balance that with school. Luckily, my managers at the hospital were so great and so accommodating for my school schedule. So that's another reason why I love my hospital. But along the way, I'm working this job. I'm going to school, got a family. It's all really, really stressful to the point where I ended up with shingles one semester from the stress and some migraine headaches. And yeah, it was a rough time, and I'm sure a lot of you all are going through that kind of thing as well. Some of you may have family. Some of you are trying to work more hours than I was at the time. It's just a lot. So there were some doubts along the way on whether this was a good choice or not.

And then I got out of school, and I got my job as a new grad at my hospital, and you start work. I started work and it's pretty overwhelming as a new nurse. I'm not going to lie about it. There's a lot to learn and it can be overwhelming. And then 10 weeks in I had to move to night shift, and wow was that hard for me. It was hard enough going to school and everything else, but night shift really, really messed me up in terms of emotionally, physically, being able to see my family. My whole family's on day shift. My husband works days. My kids are awake during the day. So this whole night shift routine I was constantly sleep-deprived. It had a number of symptoms. I had some palpitations and a chronic cough when I was on night shift. And that was another time that I really doubted my decision to become a nurse. Right? As much as I like taking care of patients, it was taking this huge toll on me emotionally and physically. But I stuck it out. I knew that I was going to have to work night shift as a new grad. I knew that going in. And I'm like, "I've got to make it these five months on night shift, and then I'll get back to day shift."

So I did get back to day shift. And also, at the time, I was feeling like being a floor nurse on a med surg tele floor wasn't necessarily the best fit for me. I did really well at it. But I'm kind of a perfectionist, and I like to really have more detailed interactions with my patients versus kind of running around fighting fires and everything. So from the floor, I transitioned into my wound care position, which is what I'm doing now. And I love my position and everything is right with the world now. It was worth it for me to go to nursing school. I have no doubt that this is my path. This is my passion. This is where I was meant to be. But boy, did I have to jump through some hoops and work so hard to get to this place, to get to this happy, balanced place where I really love my job.

So I just offer this story, one, so you know why I first decided to become a nurse, and also to know that there's going to be some hoops and some challenges and some moments where you're really questioning your decision. But just know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. And even if the first position you're in as a new grad or as a new nurse doesn't feel good, know that there are other paths that are right for you. It could be surgery. It could be in research or as a case manager. There's so much you can do with a nursing degree. So just keep doing research until you find where your happy place is, the place where you were meant to be. So that's my story, and I just want to say hang in there. I know it's hard. I've been there. I have been in your shoes. Not your specific circumstances, but I've been through a lot to get to this point, and I know how hard it is. But if you can just reflect about why you chose this path and just stick with it and just know that you're in it to help people and make a difference in the world, then you can get through it. You can do it and I'm here to help. Right? I'm going to keep making videos. I'm going to keep doing everything I can to help as many nursing students as possible get to where I am, which is a pretty amazing place. I'm in an amazing role, and I have an amazing life right now just being able to help people, have a great job at the hospital, my family. I'm incredibly blessed. So thanks for watching. I appreciate everyone. I appreciate all your support and I'll see you on a video soon. Thanks.

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1 comment

First off, you are such an inspiration! I really love your story because I’ve been there and the struggle is definitely real. I’m current an LVN and have considered going back for my RN. In the meantime, I’ve been very interested in becoming a Certified Wound Care nurse, but struggling to find out where to start. I found programs online that I can take and then take the exam afterwards, but it didn’t have an option to do “clinicals” to get the hours of experience like we would in nursing school. Is there any advise you can give me to help guide me in the right direction? Becoming a certified wound care nurse is my ultimate dream job! You’re also local to me which is amazing and if I ever get a chance to study under you for wound care, that would be the BEST thing ever!!!!! Do they accept nursing volunteers for wound care or have a wound care program at Scripps Encinitas? Thank you again for sharing all your experiences, tips, and tricks about nursing.


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