It was a challenging year for three Samuel Merritt University (SMU) alumnae who juggled the demands of an accelerated nursing program with taking care of their young children. Looking back now, they say the hard work and sacrifices were well worth the rewards.
At a pinning ceremony in May to mark the completion of her nursing studies, Christina Schmidt’s 4-year-old son ran onto the stage to give his mother a congratulatory hug.
“I’m so happy,” says Schmidt of becoming a registered nurse. “It’s wonderful to hear my son say: ‘I’m so proud of you Mommy.’”
When the single mother began SMU’s Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) program, her son was only 3 years old and accustomed to spending all of his time with Schmidt. Adding to the lifestyle change was a 54-mile commute between Schmidt’s home in the Santa Cruz Mountains and the University’s San Mateo campus that she survived by carpooling with another student.
Schmidt says she learned to manage her time wisely, waking up some mornings at 4:45 so she could arrive at school two hours early and study before classes began. On nights when her son had bad dreams, he often fell asleep in her arms while she completed homework at the dining room table.
“It was not easy, but in some ways, it made me really prioritize my time because I didn’t have another choice,” she says. “I knew I wanted to be a constant in my son’s life, to instill in him a hard-work ethic, as well as be a strong student.”
Melanie Ng, the mother of a 2-year-old boy, knew returning to school would be a challenge but remained focused on her goal of becoming a nurse.
“There were many times that I doubted myself and was stressed out from balancing mommy life, and being a good wife, friend and the best student I could be, but I pushed through,” Ng says.
A former social worker, Ng enrolled in community college to complete her prerequisite courses for nursing school only two months after her son was born and remembers pumping breast milk in the car during class breaks. Once she started the full-time nursing program, the demands on her time grew.
“All of the skills that we learned in nursing school — organization, prioritization, delegation — I was able to apply to my personal life,” says Ng. “I made many sacrifices throughout the program like not being able to watch my favorite show, go out with friends, or spend a few extra hours with my family, but it was all worth it.”
Planning for the unexpected
Chelsie Antonio says the early months of the nursing program went pretty smoothly because her son was only 6 months old when she started her coursework. But once he started walking, she says she could no longer study while watching him because he required more attention.
“There are things you can’t plan for like when your son gets a fever while you’re studying for an exam,” Antonio says. “I learned to take it day to day.”
In the meantime, Antonio got pregnant halfway through the program and her daughter was born a few months after graduation. It was all part of her grand plan to finish her education and have her children before her husband began a graduate program in pharmacy.
“I knew nursing was going to be a stable career and wanted to start it as soon as I could,” says Antonio. “It was really hard, but it was one of my biggest accomplishments to be able to do it while raising a child.”
It takes a village
All three of the ABSN alumnae with young children credit their successful completion of the nursing program to the support they received from their families. Schmidt and Antonio lived with their parents and often relied on them for childcare.
“My parents made it possible,” says Schmidt. “I would not have been able to do it without them.”
Ng says she leaned on her husband, who worked from home, and on weekends her extended family looked after her son when she had to study or attend clinical rotations.
“As the saying goes: ‘It takes a village to raise a child,’” says Ng. “Everyone was on board to pitch in. I could not have made it through such a rigorous program without their endless support.”
Ng says she was determined to become a nurse because she wanted to be a positive role model for her son.
“This past year serves as a true testament that anything is possible,” says Ng. “I want to be the example that with perseverance, hard work and dedication, the impossible can happen. “