First Posted: 1/17/2014
FAIRVIEW TWP. —Linda Vasquez has always wanted to be a nurse.
But Vasquez, 33, has had a lot of other things to juggle in her life. She is a mother of three, and her husband, Rich, works out of the state for most of the week.
Despite those challenges, Vasquez made her dream of becoming a nurse come true on Friday when she graduated from the practical nursing program at Penn State Hazleton. She was one of 22 students who earned a certificate in practical nursing. Graduates are also eligible to sit for the National Council Licensure Examination-Practical Nurses.
Vasquez was the top student in her class with the highest average GPA.
“I’m very excited,” she said. “This has been a long-time dream of mine — to be a nurse.”
Susan Bartal, public relations specialist for Penn State Hazleton, said graduates of the 18-month program emerge as practical nurses. Graduates would then need to complete the NCLEX-PN exam to become licensed practical nurses. She called the program a “great stepping stone” for those wanting to move up from a certified nursing assistant (CNA) position.
The program lets students take classes in evenings and on weekends.
“It’s the only program like that in the area,” Bartal said. She said similar programs offer daytime classes. “It’s very popular among people who may have lost their jobs and they’re looking to be retrained to reenter the workforce.”
Sixty-four students have graduated from the program since classes were first offered in 2010.
The road less traveled
Vasquez said her family moved the the area when her husband was sent here when he was in the U.S. Marine Corps. She began the nursing program in July 2012, but in January 2013, her husband received orders that would have moved the family to Louisiana.Vasquez stressed that she loved and supported her family but said she “put her foot down” so she could stay in the area to finish the program.
Rich joined the reserves in March and has since worked as a personal trainer and manager at the Equinox gym in New York City. Vasquez said Rich is home on Fridays, works Saturdays and is off Sundays.
Along with focusing on her studies, Vasquez has also had to care for Victoria, 6, Robby, 7 and Teddy, 11. Another challenge for Vasquez is Teddy’s autism. “We are very lucky,” she said. While her son doesn’t speak, Vasquez said, “physically, he is very healthy.”
Along with dealing with her son’s condition, Vasquez said the hardest part is not knowing what the future holds for him.
Vasquez says she takes life a day at a time, and used to balance her studies, being a stay-at-home mom and rarely seeing her husband — a way to live that she said “is not for everyone.”
Now, she is ready to go back to work.
“My husband’s wonderful, my family’s great, I have a lot of support,” Vasquez said. “It makes the accomplishment that much more exciting.”
Achieving a dream
She saw the degree as a way to provide a better life for her family and to be a part of her future patients’ memories.
She has not started looking for work yet, as she said the family is considered moving to New York City. She added that “you can’t just up and go” with a child with autism. Vasquez hopes to continue her education at some point and receive her bachelor of science in nursing.
Vasquez was not sure what type of nurse she would like to be, but said she likes the idea of working in the operating room or in cardiac and wound care.