Grad Q&A with Vocational Nursing graduate Rhiannon Rubalcava
At 27-years old Rhiannon Rubalcava knew if she was ever going to make the jump from Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) to Vocational Nurse, she needed to make her move. But the timing was not ideal.
She and her husband, Jamie, had a 1-year-old, and Rhiannon was working part-time as a CNA, while she took a few classes at a local community college. It was a busy life. But Rhiannon had higher ambitions in the medical field, and she was itching to make the stretch.
What stirred you to reach higher in the health care field?
I was always interested in science classes and the medical field, so I got my Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) certification in 2018. Being a CNA I got to see what the nurses were doing day-to-day, providing patient care and it just felt right for me.
I’d also spent a lot of time in the hospital with my grandma when I was younger, and the nurses were so wonderful and supportive of her during those last months of her life. I decided that I wanted to give somebody that kind of care one day.
Why change from Certified Nursing Assistant to Vocational Nurse?
Working in a long-term care facility I get to see the same patients every day, so I really build a bond with them. I got to work side-by-side with nurses and knew that’s what I really wanted to do.
I was happy there, but I wanted to go deeper. I took the Vocational Nursing program at SJVC to do that. I liked the Vocational Nursing program at SJVC. It fit my long-term goal. Eventually, I would like to bridge over and complete the LVN-to-RN program.
What attracted you to SJVC’s Vocational Nursing program in Visalia?
A couple of nurses I’d worked with are graduates from SJVC’s VN program and spoke very highly about it. I applied, and when I got in, I was just so excited. But my son was still very little, and I was needing to work full-time, so there were some delays.
Once you enrolled in the VN program, did you find your footing?
The program is so rigorous with studying and homework – plus I was still working 12 hours/week. I felt like I had to have every second planned and you have to be very good at time management.
Did you get the support you needed to commit to the VN program?
Me and my husband would plan out our week: who makes dinner, who picks up at day care. Spouse support is everything. When I would tell Jamie I didn’t think I could do this, he would say, “It’s just temporary; We’re doing this to give our son a better life’. I couldn’t have done it without him.
Did you get the instructor support you needed?
Our instructors were really supportive. Any time we had a subject we weren’t grasping, Mrs. Grant would take extra time to go over things, direct us to video links or explain things in a different way. She was amazing. I had straight As through the whole program.
What made a lasting impression on you as a VN student?
We got to practice our skills in real time with real patients in our Clinicals. That was the most exciting for me. We worked at KDDH (Kaweah Delta District Hospital). We would get assignments and shadow nurses to see how they took care of patients. We got to practice our skills in a real medical environment in real time.
What captured your interest in class?
Our class had a really cool electronic mannequin. We could take heart rate, blood pressure and vital signs and it would respond vocally through our instructor’s voice mechanism. It even had a circulatory system and ‘veins’ in its arm so we would do IV therapy. We could see the ‘blood’ circulate and it could leak out all over the place! It was really cool.
Were there any exciting moments in your training that you will especially remember?
At the hospital (KDDH) we (VN students) will observe or participate in whatever we are called to do. I got to be part of helping deliver a baby, as a leg-holder. I’d never seen anyone give birth before and it was really amazing. It was a beautiful moment when the baby comes out and is put on her chest. Afterward, she thanked me for giving her support. It was a special moment for me to be a part of that.
What were some of your greatest struggles in your VN program?
Time management. Just having to make sure that I was giving enough time to studies and homework, but also my husband and son. We’d put my son in daycare and that was hard for me. My husband would tell me, “Keep our eyes focused on the prize”.
Do you have some favorite moments in your VN program?
Getting an “A” in Pharmacology was one of my favorite accomplishments because it’s a very hard class. But it was really interesting to me. There’s so much to know about medications: side effects, interactions with other medications, facts to give patients about medications. Patient education is so important.
You are a Daisy Award winner, right?
That was a surprise! The award spans 50-states and is given mostly to nurses, but nursing students (category) was recently added. The award was created by a family to recognize nurses they feel go above and beyond in patient care. Hospitals, clinics and nursing schools nominate those they think qualify and one of my instructors, Mrs. Jones, nominated me! I have a Daisy pin and a hand-carved sculpture of a ‘healer’ made in a small village in Zimbabwe. Healers are important in their village.
Did the NCLEX-PN (test for licensure) challenge you?
We take the NCLEX-PN for practical nursing licensure and the cost is included with our program’s tuition. It was as hard as I thought it would be and I’d studied for about a month before I took it. It’s a 3-hour adaptive test on the computer; then you have to wait for 48 hours to get your results. It was a long weekend, but I was happy to pass.
What was your greatest inspiration to complete the VN program?
The support from my husband and my family. My mom, Susan, had four daughters and worked hard to provide for us. She really pushed us to have a career and a good life for ourselves and that education is the key.
My parents came from SoCal for my graduation. They told me how proud they were, and that meant a lot to me. My younger sister, Rylie, is also a nursing student and I think she’s found the same thing about helping people being so rewarding. We’re really close and I’m just really proud of her.
What advice would you give others with strong career ambitions?
Some weeks I didn’t think I was good enough or smart enough; there’s self-doubt. But, if you set aside some study time every day, day-by-day, then it’s another week, and another month. And you make it. It’s hard, but it’s also so rewarding.
What’s next for you?
I don’t want to wait more than a year to go back to school for my Registered Nursing education. The knowledge I have is still so fresh. And once I get going, I’ll finish. SJVC is my first choice for that.
Our RN to BSN program is a Bachelors degree completion option for Registered Nurses.