1. Pellico, Linda PhD, APRN

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Let me tell you the stories of a fisherman, a Peace Corps worker, and a first-generation American.


The human touch.

The fisherman's name is David. He graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in environmental education from Hobart College in Geneva, New York, and planned to become an Outward Bound instructor. He moved back home to the Connecticut shoreline, where he'd spent summers working on lobster boats during high school and college.


Second-guessing his choice of an Outward Bound career, he decided to get a job on a fishing boat while figuring out what to do with his life. You may not be surprised to hear that David spent the next 10-plus years working on lobster boats. He dreamed of becoming the captain of his own boat, but a moratorium on fishing licenses forced him to reconsider. David's mom is a nurse, and she encouraged him to consider the profession. He became a certified nursing assistant in order to get a sense of what the nursing profession was really like. It just so happened that a friend's father, whom David had known as a child, developed Alzheimer disease at age 59. David spent the next two years caring for him. Six months after the man had been placed in a nursing facility, he died while holding David's hand. David realized he wanted to pursue a career in which he could care for people at the end of their lives. And this is what brought him to the Yale School of Nursing. He is now entering his final year of the gerontological nurse practitioner program. David still loves the sea air, but when asked about his new career as a nurse, he quickly remarks that he "wouldn't trade his RN license even for a captain's license."


A better fit.

Unlike David, Misae was interested in the health care field from an early age. She attended the University of California at San Diego, majoring in physiology and neuroscience with the intention of going on to medical school. Immediately after graduation, she decided she needed a hiatus from academia, so she joined the Peace Corps and went to Bolivia, where she was trained as a health educator. During her two years in South America, Misae developed a passion for public health; she decided to pursue a master's degree in that area, with a concentration in international health, at Johns Hopkins University. Upon graduation, off she went for a one-year fellowship at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta. She revisited her original dreams of pursuing a medical degree and began to apply to medical schools. But Misae reconsidered what it meant to provide health care and realized that what she envisioned for her career-not just providing diagnosis and treatment but also empowering patients through health education, advocacy, health promotion, and counseling-fit nicely within the field of nursing. Drawn to the philosophy of nursing, the idea of treating the person as a whole (in mind, body, and spirit), she immediately withdrew her medical school applications and soon thereafter found herself at Yale pursuing a career as a family nurse practitioner. Misae notes of her studies at Yale that "at every moment along the way, I am thankful and excited about the decision I have made." She imagines that her nursing career is one that will provide "continual learning and growth and options that are endless."


Meaningful relationships.

Finally, a few words about Enyo. She received a bachelor of science degree in human development and psychological services at Northwestern University near Chicago, but the field of health care had always been in the back of her mind. Her family is from Ghana in western Africa, and her mother was a lay midwife. Her mother later continued her education in the United States, worked as a nurse in labor and delivery, and then resumed her work as a certified nurse midwife. At a young age, Enyo would accompany her mother to births and home visits, witnessing up close the process of caring for patients while also developing close relationships with them. Like Misae, for a time Enyo considered becoming a physician. But after various internships, volunteer experiences, and in-depth conversations with health professionals, she realized that she wanted her life's work to combine her interest in health care with her desire to develop meaningful relationships. She discovered that her true home was nursing. Enyo is currently finishing her first year at the Yale School of Nursing, learning the basics before she continues her education in advanced practice nursing.



What do a fisherman, a Peace Corps worker, and a first-generation American have in common? Each came to nursing through an indirect educational route. I was sold on nursing at the age of four, while these adults dreamed different futures, only to find those plans either wanting in some way or in need of refinement over time. In 16 years I have taught nursing to more than 500 students, a good percentage of whom either fleetingly or never considered this profession during their formative years. That experience has given me some beliefs about these "alternative" nursing students that I would like to share with you.


Belief number one.

There is no template for college graduates who haven't studied nursing but later choose to become nurses. Some are fresh faced, with newly minted diplomas, while others have been out of school for years, even decades. If you think that there must be a more fulfilling way to spend your days, it is not too late to accomplish your dreams. At last count we had 50 accelerated programs from which to choose. The minimum requirement for all of our programs is a bachelor's degree-and while certain course work may be easier for the student with a background in science, the student with a liberal arts background often brings to her studies a more holistic perspective.


Belief number two.

Belief number one is wrong. There is one universal motivation in all the students-their desire to change the world, one relationship at a time. They are the future's caregivers. Some will care for the body, some for the mind, but all will care for the spirit. But all will care for the potentially sick, no matter the population or setting.


Belief number three.

College graduates who did-n't study nursing can become both nurses and advanced practice nurses. We have been admitting graduate-entry students for 31 years, and they have been highly successful. So ignore the doubters and the naysayers who declare that it cannot be done. You are smart enough and strong enough, and you are following in the footsteps of many men and women. The truth is that you are simply doing this differently from the typical high school graduates who enter associate, diploma, or college nursing programs. Of course, anyone who does something in a different way will at times be viewed with suspicion. But you will enter programs with faculty who believe in you, value your strength and diversity, and welcome you into our profession. So stop second-guessing; get your applications ready.


Belief number four.

I imagine that a part of you thinks that this will be easy. After all, you've already graduated from college. You will be amazed by how difficult it is to learn nursing. Nursing is hard. It is hard for those of us not blessed with perfect test scores, but it is also hard for Phi Beta Kappa members, college valedictorians, and cum laude degree recipients. Nursing requires study, experience, and assimilation: the intellectual demands are daunting in themselves, the technical skills are challenging, and the intimacy with patients and their families is more profound than you can imagine. But just as life is full of contradictions, so is nursing. Some days will be easy, boring, ugly, and sad, while other days will be challenging, exciting, beautiful, and happy. Cherish the latter and pull yourself through the former. Nursing is worthy of your efforts.


My final belief is that nursing will change you, and you'll forever be grateful for the transformation. In 16 years, I have never spoken to a former student who regretted the decision to enter the field. So to you emergency medical technicians, photographers, furniture designers, and biology majors, I say: we're here, and we'll leave the light on.