Grad Q&A with Registered Nursing Graduate Stacey Cunha
Stacey Cunha found out that skill and compassion, alone, are not enough to be a successful nurse. The personal and professional strength to witness someone else’s pain, fear and, sometimes, death is equally important.
Stacey’s medical vocation brings her into daily contact with patients who struggle with health issues that range from incidental to long-term and, occasionally, life-threatening. She has learned to handle all situations with a balance of strength and sensitivity.
When were you first drawn to a medical career?
I was 9-years old when my dad (Paul) was diagnosed with cancer. I was eleven when he passed away at 42-years old. I would go with him to cancer treatments and his nurse was so compassionate and there for him, as well as for my mom (Filomena) and me.
She was always checking on us, so polite and always tried to have a smile on her face. It just made me realize I wanted to be like her, that type of person. In that moment I just knew. I wanted to be a nurse and be as compassionate as I could be for that family and that patient.
How did your dream of becoming a nurse progress?
After high school (2015) I did ‘prereqs’ for nursing at COS (community college) for two years, then started SJVC’s RN (Registered Nursing) program in April 2018. I was working part-time as a CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) in a nursing home.
Why SJVC’s RN program?
I chose SJVC for two reasons: I heard really good things about the program; I had a friend who was a student there. And I looked hard at SJVC; the program timeframe, reviews, the opportunities they have there. I wanted to make sure because this was my future and I wanted to take the right path.
I found a lot of positivity about the school in relation to how the instructors were very patient and very involved in students’ education.
Did your assessment of SJVC’s RN program prove accurate?
After I started there, I realized how I really loved the instructors. They were available for us to call or send an email after-hours if we were stuck on something. When I needed a little more emotional support, there was one instructor, Stacie Tanner (clinical instructor), who was always there for me.
In the beginning, it was such a hard transition, academically. But I felt very comfortable asking for support and getting it.
What was one of the best things about the RN program?
The timing is beautiful. The program (can be completed in as few as) 20-months. Very quick.
And it was a shock to me how caring those instructors were to the students. They would go above-and-beyond if a student was struggling. A student might be at the point of dropping out, but instructors would intervene by doing extra study sessions to help the student better understand the material. I believe they saved some students.
What was the hardest part for you?
I did have a difficult time with the fact that everything was fast paced. But instructors would come in to help me review the material after class. They gave that extra time to help me understand.
But I just always felt in my heart that this was the right path for me. Knowing I wanted to be a nurse made me push harder in the program and not give up on myself. I’ve always been the type of person who is goal driven.
Did you have a support system at home?
My mom was such a huge support in my life, especially after my dad passed away. There were multiple times during the program that I would be very stressed out and would go to my mom crying about it. She would just hold me and let me cry it all out. She would tell me, ‘Everything’s going to be OK; your guardian angel is watching over you’. I would just feel relieved and the feel the stress off my shoulders.
I met my boyfriend, Josh, the last 3 months of school. I would explain to him that I would have a big test and was so worried, so scared and he would tell me, ‘You’re great and you’re going to do fine’. I can’t thank him enough for being there for me then and now.
Why did you keep pushing toward your career goal?
My inspiration was not just the fact of fighting to be a nurse, but to make my parents proud. My mom tells me almost every day, ‘You don’t know how proud of you I am; and your dad is so proud of you and the woman you’ve become’.
What advice would you give to those interested in a career in your field?
If you have the compassion to be in this field, if this is your ‘One True Dream’, go for it. Keep fighting and never give up!
Was your job search difficult after RN program completion?
KDDH (Kaweah Delta District Hospital in Visalia) hired me on the spot, predicated upon passing NCLEX exam (passed in January 2020). I started in the ICCU (Intermediate Critical Care Unit) and am still there now.
Stacey was recently featured on Kaweah Delta’s social media about her hiring experience. See it here.
What is work like in your new career as a Registered Nurse?
I absolutely love being a bed-side nurse and can’t see myself moving away from that anytime soon. RNs are always looking for signs of decline (in patients); you always have to be one step ahead. A patient can look OK but in ten minutes something else can happen and you have to be ready.
The main reason I love my work is because of my coworkers and the doctors. It is so gratifying that they are not only compassionate, but they are always by my side. In an emergency situation they are next to me and we’re a team.
I love the fact that I am continuously learning something new. I can see how one kind of treatment can totally change how a patient feels and reacts to a medication.
Is your job stressful?
I had a patient, male in his early 30s, with Covid. I was his nurse multiple days and would check on him even when I wasn’t. I helped him and his wife do FaceTime, since there were no visitors allowed. He was very sick, needing a lot of oxygen.
One of my days off I felt in my heart like I should go to back to work. Just two days before he had grabbed my hand and told me ‘Thank you’ and he said, ‘If something happens to me, I want you to tell my wife. Thank you for everything’. That was just two days before his actual passing.
He left an imprint on my heart to continue to do what I do for other people.
What is next for you in your career advancement?
I finished my Bachelors (degree) for nursing last year in March. My goal right now is to get my CCRN (Critical Care Registered Nurse) certification, which is a state test I’m studying for online. I haven’t pushed for it too much quite yet. I want more experience with other diagnoses and other diseases before I take this test.
What is in your near future?
Within the next 2-4 years I would like to be a clinical instructor for nursing students. When students come here for their clinical days, I do love teaching them.
Far into the future my heart is still wanting to be an oncologist nurse. I know I’m not quite ready for that yet. But I do get some patients who have cancer and I still get very emotional about that. But it’s not my time for it.
Right now, I want to help others step out of their comfort zone and do what their hearts want.
Our RN to BSN program is a Bachelors degree completion option for Registered Nurses.