The COVID-19 pandemic has yielded some unexpected revelations. For instance, nursing school applications are up across the U.S. Whether driven by the practical or the personal—or a bit of both—candidates are pursuing a high-demand career unique in its combination of compassion and expertise.
Perhaps what’s unsurprising is that those in medicine—and specifically nurses—have shown a lifelong interest in learning. It is that desire and that drive that can make nurses some of the most dedicated to their patients and their profession.
Megan Barretto admits she “craves something for [her] brain to chew on” and often finds herself literally or figuratively “in the seat of a student.” Her dislike of the high school experience motivated her to graduate early and immediately set her sights on healthcare. First stop: becoming a licensed vocational nurse at just 19 years old. From there, Barretto’s academic and professional credentials have grown. She’s become a registered nurse, caring for patients inside the emergency department and intensive care unit at Sutter Medical Center, Sacramento. She earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in nursing and is currently pursuing her doctorate as well. To boot, she took her love of learning and translated it into teaching. She is the interim academic director of prelicensure programs at the Samuel Merritt University campus in Sacramento.
“The [nursing] practice is always evolving,” said Barretto, who is in her mid-30s. “There’s new research to implement at the bedside in order to stay current. School is a consolidated way to stay current.”
Reina Argueta is at the beginning of her nursing education journey. The certified nursing assistant has worked at Sutter Delta Medical Center in Antioch, Calif., for four years.
“I fell in love with the work. I felt like this is the type of work I needed to be doing,” she said.
Argueta noticed a close, family-type atmosphere among the unit nurses and staff, and, in turn, they have noticed her hard work and dedication. As one of the younger team members at 27, Argueta appreciates the interest they have taken in her growth. The nurses, like doting aunties, frequently checked in with her: Was she going to school? How was she doing in school? When Argueta said she was aiming for her LVN license, they encouraged her to reach further. She is now on track to earn her registered nurse license and bachelor’s degree in nursing from the Samuel Merritt University campus in Oakland in May of 2022.
Both Argueta and Barretto acknowledge working and going to school simultaneously is not easy. The demands and realities of everyday life—rent, bills, family responsibilities—don’t stop. The added cost of education places added stress on students. Argueta went from working full time to 24 hours a week since going to school. She never had a college fund and ended up taking out a loan to put toward her education.
As Sutter employees, both women have accessed a 20% discount on tuition as they have attended Samuel Merritt’s nursing program. The scholarship is available to full-time, part-time or per-diem Sutter employees, whether they attend Samuel Merritt full-time or part-time.
“Being able to get the scholarship from Sutter Health gives me a little cushion so I don’t worry so much. Everything helps,” Argueta said.
“The scholarship helps cultivate us. It helps us continue to be courageous and not be complacent,” added Barretto.
Argueta said she hasn’t decided which area of medicine she’d like to start in her nursing career. The Surgery Department is interesting to her, given some work she has done in the post-anesthesia care unit at Sutter Delta. She is glad she didn’t let her initial doubts about finances hold her back. She can appreciate her accomplishments thus far and remain focused on what’s ahead for her to meet her goals.
“Don’t let those [doubts] stop you from going to school,” she said.
Barretto is solely teaching at Samuel Merritt now, but absolutely sees herself back at the bedside caring for patients.
“I love Sutter because they have been so open to us learning new skills and growing and continuing developing as nurses and as people,” she said. “I’m eager for wherever Sutter takes me next.”