From Veterinarian Dreams to Becoming a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner
My name is Jocelyn Mejia, MSN, PMHNP-BC which is a fancy way of saying that I’m a board certified Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner. I currently work at a community health center located in Lynn, Massachusetts, which is a city that is predominantly made up of Dominicans and Boricuas. I provide psychopharmacological treatments to my patients and mainly focus on treating PTSD, SUD, anxiety disorders, depressive disorders, and psychotic disorders. I’m proud of where I am today in my career but it was not an easy or linear journey.
Let’s start from the beginning. I was born and raised in Boston, Massachusetts. I’m the third out of four children and was mainly raised by a single mother. Mi Mami immigrated from Lima, Peru in the 1980s and mi Papi immigrated from Santo Domingo in the 1970s. Throughout most of my childhood, my parents were on and off but eventually divorced when I was a pre-teen. So growing up, my siblings and I took care of one another while my mom worked two jobs to try her best at financially supporting us. I grew up in a very strict household and was taught that my two biggest priorities should be God and getting a good education. So I worked my hardest to make sure I hit the honor roll every semester. Ultimately, I graduated high school in 2010 with honors and a scholarship to pursue, my then dream of becoming a veterinarian.
From 2010 to 2014 I attended the University of Massachusetts Amherst as a pre-veterinary major. Although I had scholarships to help me pay my tuition, I had to use the money to pay for my books, room and boarding, and meal plans. Quickly the dream of graduating debt free no longer was looking like a reality because I was a first generation college student in my family, meaning I had no one to teach me how to wisely manage the little money I had, or the option to ask them to help me financially. So I applied for jobs on campus and worked different jobs such as; a cleaner in the dining hall, a receptionist in a counseling center, and a resident assistant. It was hard managing good grades, college life, friends/family, and work but I was determined to graduate and make my family proud.
Not only was college financially stressful, but it was the first time in my life that I felt like a minority. I went to a large university and not many people looked like me or shared similar customs or values, which easily made me feel like I did not belong. So a few friends and I worked hard and founded the Alpha Psi Chapter of Hermandad de Sigma Iota Alpha, Incorporada (SIA). Without the support and guidance from my hermanas, I don’t think I would have survived college. They quickly became my family and not only did my grades improve, but I started to explore my own culture more and quickly fell in love with it.
By junior year, I knew that my passion for the veterinary field was gone. Whenever I told others that my only other interests were psychology, latin american studies, and education, they would tell me that I’d be miserable and in debt for the rest of my life. So I listened and graduated with my bachelors in animal science and minor in wildlife conservation. I was proud that I was first in my family to receive my bachelor’s but internally I was conflicted. I knew my heart was no longer set on becoming a veterinarian, but I did not want to let my family down. So I saved up money and moved to South Africa to work as a baboon field researcher for Duke University to continue gaining experience with animals but to also spend more time learning about myself. I ended up learning that my passions still pointed at working in the psychology field and being involved with the Latinx community.
When I returned to the U.S., a friend told me that I could achieve all my goals by becoming a psychiatric nurse practitioner. Originally, I laughed at the idea because I did not think I was smart enough for that. Coincidentally at this time, I met my current significant other and he gave me the push and confidence to apply! I stopped listening to everyones negative comments and signed up for night classes at the closest community college so that I could fulfill my nursing prerequisites at night after work (I was working as a veterinary technician during this time). I applied to several accelerated nursing programs and was rejected by many and waitlisted by two. I told myself I would not give up and just gain more experience and try again next year. Thankfully, three weeks after getting waitlisted from my top choice, MGH Institute of Health Professions, they emailed me to tell me I was accepted into the program. An hour after that, I got a call from a local library that I won a $1,000 scholarship to go towards my education. Things were finally falling into place!
The three years at MGH Institute of Health Professions were by far the hardest years of my life. I re-experienced many of my previous struggles: not having the money to pay for school and once again being a minority who felt as though she did not belong. Although our program strongly advised us to not work during this program due to the intensity of the courses, I had no choice but to continue working. Most semesters were up to 18 credits and required long hours in lecture and at clinical so the only sleep I got was when I would take the bus and train to commute to class and work. A year into the program my hard work paid off! I won a full ride scholarship which paid for my last two years, I passed the NCLEX, and was offered a job as an inpatient psychiatric nurse. And in May of 2019 I was finally able to proudly cross the stage to receive two beautiful pieces of paper; my second bachelor’s and my masters in nursing!
Today I’m working as a new Nurse Practitioner during the COVID-19 pandemic. Whenever I am feeling down or overwhelmed, I just reflect on my journey and remind myself of why I went into this field. My biggest piece of advice to the Latinx youth looking into the medical field is to keep your eye on the prize and do not let anyone or anything get in your way. Surround yourself with positive people who will cheer you on no matter what and pick you up whenever you fall. YOU CAN DO THIS!