Ten Years in the Making: One Latina's Journey to Nursing

My name is Maria Dominguez and I’m currently working on a dual major in an accelerated BSN program and liberal arts. I was born in Mexico City and came to America at the age of three to live the “American Dream.” Growing up, I struggled in school and I never understood why. I lived in San Diego where there weren’t that many Latinos in my school. I also didn’t grow up with the “culture” since most of my family was so small. I soon began to adopt the “American way” which made me stand out even more and caused me to not fit in with the few Latinos that were in my school. It has taken me ten years to finally get to where I am at. All throughout high school, I struggled to the point where I thought that I wasn’t going to be successful in college. I attempted it anyway. My parents always pushed education and they gave up their life in Mexico so that I could have a better education. I felt there was no giving up.

Let me introduce you to my journey through school. My high school was on the wealthier side. We had many resources available, which helped me to become a straight A student. I was their first Latina student to ever have a 4.0 GPA. Yes, you read that correctly, first Latina ever in that high school. The school threw me a pizza party to recognize me and I was so embarrassed. Let’s just say I never showed up. How was this possible? I know there were only about fifteen Latinos in a school of about two thousand students, but how was this possible? I started to question if we were even capable of being successful in school. Let’s fast forward to college. I always knew I wanted a few different careers that I could move around in. My first small career was in medical billing and coding. That was not the career for me. When it was time for my externship, the doctor did not trust a new student, me, to work on his billing and coding, so he had me follow the medical assistants around. I immediately fell in love with the medical field and decided I wanted to switch careers. My counselor told me it was too late and that it would cost an additional fifteen thousand dollars if I wanted to make the switch. I couldn't afford that, so I completed my program and was able to begin working in the medical field as a medical receptionist. Time went on and I wasn’t happy in the position I was working in. I decided to step out of the medical field for a while and went to work in real estate instead.

Real estate wasn’t for me. Because I struggled all throughout school, I didn’t think going back to school was an option for me. I also couldn’t afford it and I didn’t expect my parents to pay for my education. I was so unhappy. I remember praying and asking for a sign to please guide me in the direction I needed to go. One day, I came home and found my cat sitting on my bed on top of a Penny Saver. There, right in front of me, I couldn’t believe it, my prayers had been answered! In an ad, they were offering medical assistant classes through a program called ROP, which helps adults further their education. At the time I was 20 years old, so I called and signed up right away. The best part about it was that I didn’t have to pay for anything but my books! I struggled on each test but was committed to passing. I graduated in 2008 as a medical assistant and was offered a position from my externship in urgent care. Immediately after I started working, I signed up to school again, but this time to be a phlebotomist. I was starting to have confidence in myself and figured if I could pass MA school, I would be okay in phlebotomy. I completed the program and got my certification. Meanwhile, at work, I was hired to work the front office and rarely had the chance to work as a MA, which is what I had gone back to school for. Once again, I was unhappy.  I was on the hunt for some change, so I switched jobs and decided to go back to school and enrolled in community college.

Let’s just say, that job was the worst three months of my life. The doctor was so degrading and would make rude remarks with insults towards me on a daily basis. I left as soon as I could and decided to focus on school full time. I began to struggle, and failed a lot. I found myself asking, “Why wasn’t I succeeding?” I met with different counselors that often guided me towards wrong information as to what classes I should be enrolled in. I quickly became frustrated and gave up. 

This brought me back to my high school days where I failed most of my classes. I would study hard and when it came to testing, I would fail. I didn’t know it then but I had testing anxiety. This went on for years. I continued to go to community college on and off for five years. I finally committed and decided to work extra hard to do whatever it took to get better grades. I realized that I did better in accelerated programs and attempted to go to Kaplan, several times. I could not pass the entrance exam for the life of me! Math was never my strongest subject in high school and this was causing me to fail the entrance exam. In one weekend, I learned everything I didn’t learn in four years of high school. I went back to Kaplan to test for the entrance exam and failed again.

I was devastated, “Why, why couldn’t I pass this test?” I thought. The counselor had the audacity to ask me, “Did you even study? You received the same score as your first attempt.” You can say I was ready to jump the table and strangle her, but I didn’t. Instead, I left heartbroken and gave up. I decided to go back to community college yet again. I moved back to San Diego County. At this point, all I needed was four classes to apply to Mira Costa’s nursing program. I met with a counselor only to have my heart broken once again. I was informed that most of my classes didn’t transfer. Those four classes then turned into eleven classes that I now had to take. The counselor told me “I can guarantee you won’t get into our nursing program with these grades or any nursing program, I would advise you to switch careers.” I mean how many times can my heart be broken? I cried in the car but signed up for school anyway and took some classes. Life got hard between working at the hospital, trying to pay bills, and staying afloat in school full time. I stopped going to school and decided to “take a break.” Three years flew by and I began to be unhappy at my job again. Things were changing and I noticed that I was coming home upset daily. I remember one time I got home and was so upset, I cried in the shower, praying to God and asking for help. I then asked myself, “If I can do anything in the world right now at this very moment, what would I do?” I told myself I would rather be in nursing school than work at a job that brought me stability for the past five years.

Just like that, in exactly one month, it happened. I was out of Rady's Children’s Hospital and decided to go back to school. I had received a phone call from my Dad who told me about his friend’s wife who was in an accelerated program in nursing school. I told my Dad that I had looked into every single school in San Diego County and that there was no such school. His exact words were “Te estoy diciendo que le hables!” Translation: “I’m telling you to call her!” My Dad was very passive and was never one to raise his voice, so I knew he meant business. I called her immediately and she answered all my questions. The next day I called the program she was enrolled into and made an appointment. I met with Ray, my now advisor, and told him how I didn’t have the best grades. He assured me I would be successful and would do great in the program. With wide eyes I thought “What!? An advisor believes that I can make it into nursing school!” I was excited and scared at the same time. I began school one month after signing up. I worked extremely hard to communicate with my professors. And just like that, I became a straight A student with some B’s! I was making it in school for the first time in my life! Sure, I struggled here and there and my hours of studying were very long. Sometimes I studied for fourteen hours straight to be able to understand the material. Whatever I was doing worked.

It was finally time to apply to the nursing program! I tested twice with low TEAS scores which is a requirement. At National, you only get three chances to apply. It was my last try to test and apply so I brought my best TEAS to score with me. On this day, I remember being in my car waiting to walk in. I was so nervous that I was shaking and felt like I wanted to vomit. I felt sick to my stomach and started hyperventilating. I even began to cry. It felt the same way as that one day in the shower where I sobbed. I prayed to God and asked him for help to please calm me down, to give me a sign. 

I remember crying and praying so loud in my head that it felt as if I was screaming. I then tried to relax and reached for my purse to fix my makeup. I looked down at my coffee cup and as I reached for my bag, I found a Fortune cookie placed perfectly on my cup. I looked behind me towards the back of my car seat looking for an explanation as to where this came from. I looked closely and read the fortune cookie aloud. It read “You need not worry about your future.” I began to laugh, knowing this was a sign from God, clear as day! I couldn’t believe it! I walked out of my car with confidence and took that test. 

It was four months later, at work when I received the email. I didn’t want to open the email because I didn’t want to cry at work. I thought, “What if I didn’t get in?” I was manifesting and had already told my employer that I was in the program and just waiting to find out the start date. In my defense, that how manifesting works, believing it like it has already happened. I decided to open the email with my heart pounding, my hands shaking. Before I clicked to view the results I prayed to God and said “God, whatever the answer is, I leave it in your hands. If I am meant to be a nurse I will do it but if for some reason I didn’t get in, I won’t get mad and will respect whatever decision you chose for me.” I scrolled down as I read “Congratulations, you have been accepted into the nursing program!” Tears immediately start rolling down, I couldn’t control them, I began by thanking God and excused myself to go outside to ball my eyes out.

Fast-forward to today and I’m halfway through nursing school. Have I struggled? Yes. Am I the token Latina that stands out and can feel eyes on me at all times? Yes! That has never changed. Throughout my journey in school, I was always the only Latina in class. I felt so lost and so out of place. But I never gave up! Now how did my dual major come about? I was contacted regarding my GPA and was chosen to apply for a full ride scholarship. In exchange, I was to take an additional degree on top of my nursing degree. I will graduate with my BSN as well as a minor in Liberal Arts. I will also graduate with honors! Me! With honors! And a full-ride scholarship! Of all the years I failed, I’m now making it in nursing school! Do I still fail? Of course, but I am persistent. My end goal is to become a DNP. 

My parents gave up everything in Mexico to start all over here so that I can have a better education. I often get asked where I get the motivation to do all that I do. I am also a small business owner. I am the creator of JewelNvy, I share my path and make note of it while inspiring others on Instagram, and I’ve created a podcast where I talk about nursing school to inspire others to continue. I’m also an ambassador for a few nursing brands and I work full time. My motivation? My parents. They work difficult jobs every single day and have never once complained. They motivate me every day of my life and have always pushed for education. I’m working hard so that someday soon they can retire and I can take care of them.

To all my Latinx, I’m here to say and prove that we can overcome the obstacles that lay in front of us. We have to be persistent and sometimes work harder than others. Our culture is different and our “why” is often to help our family and or those who have been there for us. We have the fire inside us that no one can take away. Don’t ever allow anyone to tell you that you can’t do it. That’s all I’ve heard my entire life but all it took was one person to believe in me. That changed my world, and I began to believe in myself. We are Latinx and we are the change!

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