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San Joaquin Valley College Blog

Balancing Act: How Ashley Main Pursued Nursing with a Full-Time Job and Two Kids

February 13, 2024

Ashley Main spent years working in secretarial positions in hospitals with her nose pressed against the glass watching nurses do all the things she wanted to do. She was especially attracted to Obstetrics/Pediatrics that quickly moved to NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) when her clerical position landed her there. That casual transfer changed the course of her career vision and reignited her education and training path toward that end.

But working full-time and with two young kids at home, could she pull it off?  She was willing to risk it all to find out.


What were your first steps into the medical side of hospitals?

I went through Tulare Adult School to become a Certified Nursing Assistant. I worked in the Medical/Surgical unit at a hospital as a CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) for a couple of years before taking a secretarial position in the pediatric/mother baby overflow unit. I always looked up to nurses; they inspired me. I loved watching them, helping them and hoping to be a nurse there eventually and working alongside them. But I knew I’d have to go to school to get there.


When did you make that jump?

It was 2016 when I applied to the RN program at SJVC and was accepted. But I found out I was pregnant, so I waited to reapply the following year. I crosse my fingers SJVC would accept me again – and they did! My daughter (Brynlee) was six months old when I started the Registered Nursing program.


How did things unfold once you started the Registered Nursing (RN) program?

I knew it was going to be really difficult, and it was. If you just go into it expecting the extreme, it doesn’t hit you as hard. In the beginning, you’re trying to find that balance: study time, what to study and how to study to get into that groove.

I feel like I was definitely prepared for the NCLEX – that’s the exam that you need to pass to obtain your license to work. Everything depends on that one test.


What kind of support did you have at home?

I was married at the time (Mike), and we had two kids (Mason and Brynlee, now 11 and 7 years old) and our extended family was just a team. Mike worked 12-hour shifts and would still come in and feed and bathe the kids.  My mom (Kelley) was a huge help with childcare and if I ever needed extra help with the kids, Mike’s dad (Lee) was on it. It was just a team.

Sometimes I’d sneak into the house to study because if the kids saw me, they’d want me. After homework I’d come in and finally let them see me. It was not easy, but it was not impossible. I told myself I could do anything for two years.


What inspired you to push so hard?

I knew there was no choice – you just keep going. It’s one week at a time, then you’re done with your first set of classes, then your next set of classes until most of it is behind you.

And friends, family and coworkers were so supportive. They’d ask, ‘What class are you in now?’ and ‘What’s your graduation date?’ School is your life, and it is exciting to talk about it.

My mom always said to my sister and me to work towards a career that we love and are able to support ourselves and our families – ‘You never know what might happen’. She was the one who was most proud in our family.


Did you find the support you needed in your program?

It wasn’t an ‘every man for himself’ kind of place. It was ‘We’re a team and we’re going to get through this’. We worked together so well. We did text messaging, study guides and would break information up into sections and share with each other.


Any advice for other current and future students?

Find a study group. We rely on other classmates a lot and if you’re struggling with something, someone will help you with it. Someone might come up with an acronym that would really help you remember something better. It was really a great class of amazing people.


What was one of the best things about your Registered Nursing program?

I appreciated the way SJVC’s program was a little more flexible in the clinicals (practical experience in a SJVC medical facility partner). We had to do so many hours in a hospital/clinical setting and some would be 12-hour shifts. We would basically shadow nurses, pass medications, start IVs and really start practicing what we had learned in a medical environment. My weekday life was hectic, so having the option to work weekends really helped.

Short semester breaks kept me in study mode when longer breaks would have been difficult to get back in the study groove.


What is your life as a Registered Nurse like at this time?

I work in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) where I primarily take care of sick or premature babies.

I love working with the family unit. The baby is my patient, but you take in the parents, as well, teaching them how to feed their baby, give the first bath and help them gain confidence in baby care after NICU. Depending on circumstances (infant stability), we want parents involved and learning every day how to bond and have that hands-on experience with their baby.


What are your future career goals?

I really like where I’m at, but plan to get my Bachelor’s degree. If I make future career changes, having a Bachelor’s degree will open more doors.

Life is a little hectic at the moment, so I’ll wait before adding school into the mix.

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