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San Joaquin Valley College Blog

Q&A with Vocational Nursing Graduate Ryann Starcher

May 21, 2024

Ryann Starcher was pregnant, living alone and working at a mental health treatment doctor’s office when she decided she wanted to make nursing her life’s work. It was a career dream she had held since she was 7-years old and had to be resuscitated with manual shock during a routine tonsillectomy. That experience gave her young mind a sense of higher purpose.

But now in her mid-thirties, could she still make that dream a reality?


What was the turning point for you toward nursing?

Working at assisted living with a lot of older patients, you expect end-of-life situations. I’ve always been one to sit and listen and felt I was able to put a smile on the faces of those at that place. To play a bigger role, I started to research what education and training was available to provide medical care for others.

I’d taken some medical and financial courses at community college – kind of jumped all over the place. But life had gotten in the way of continuing my education. Still, in my heart, I always wanted to be in the medical community.


What did you find in your search for medical career education?

I knew some of the community colleges in my area, but they had a wait list to get in. That’s when I reached out to SJVC. We did a phone – Zoom – meeting with Tiffany during which I explained I was 6-months pregnant. We stayed in touch (other SJVC contacts, as well) and I enrolled in the VN (Vocational Nursing) program.


How did that come together for you?

At that same time COVID happened, so I couldn’t even do a tour of the Santa Maria campus. The first semester was all distance learning. But by the time we had the clinical hands-on part of the program, we were back on campus.


What was your greatest struggle?

There were definitely times I cried, trying to figure out how to juggle being a new mom (daughter Penelope), going to school full-time and the financial struggle. I’d decided I wouldn’t try to work and go to school. The program was intense – 40-60 hours a week of learning, homework.


Were the instructors supportive in your Vocational Nursing program?

SJVC’s Santa Maria campus had the most amazing instructors I’ve ever had. If you weren’t succeeding, it was your fault. They were the type to do everything in their power to make sure you understand what’s going on. They held your hand in a good way and were there for you both professionally and personally.

If I had issues, I could reach out to them – no matter what. They were pretty much on-call.


What was the biggest surprise about the Vocational Nursing program?

How hard OB/GYN (Obstetrics/Gynecology) was. Every other part of nursing you have one patient. In OBGYN you have two. You’re looking at contractions (mom) and heart rate (baby). To be in clinic and assist with vaginal birth; it really gave me an appreciation for those who work there that ‘get it’ (two-patient focus).


What was the best thing about the Vocational Nursing program?

I have found lifelong friendships with students and instructors. Four of us (students) formed a study group. We’d meet after school at restaurants, or my house to study for a test; sometimes we’d Facetime to study together.


What was most difficult for you?

Time management. There were times I would hyper-focus on studying and not get enough sleep. There were times I felt that I just could not do this any longer.  I fixated on not having 100%. I gave myself some grace and reminded myself that I didn’t have to be perfect.


Did you have family support during this stressful time?

I had amazing family support. My dad and stepmom (Michael and Laura) helped me do my laundry, cooked dinner every Sunday, took care of my child while I studied. When I had overnight shifts, they let me know they were there for me.

My grandma was there for me financially and was always a cheerleader and in my corner. My mom, (Scotland) was always a cheerleader and after a rough day I could text her.


What inspired you to keep pushing?

Our grandparents instilled in us, we had to get that degree. They didn’t care what we went to college for, so long as we got – what we all called – “that stupid piece of paper”! But the value my grandparents placed on that paper inspired me, and, during our Pinning (graduation) ceremony I had to smile.


Do you have a favorite moment?

There’s that point when the ‘countdown’ begins. You’ve pushed yourself to succeed another week and then you see that light at the end of the tunnel. Starting that last semester is eye-opening. And it had a lot to do with the instructors who were cheerleaders for us.


How did your family respond to you nearing your goal?

Everyone in my family supported me.

After I got my license (LVN – Licensed Vocational Nurse) in the mail, my dad made a dinner to celebrate. He looked at me and said, ‘Look at what you did. You achieved what you wanted to achieve.’

I took the hardest route I could and achieved what I wanted to achieve.


What advice would you give others who have career aspirations – and family responsibilities?

It’s not easy. But the sense of accomplishment – and the drive that you know what you really want to do – is worth it. Don’t give up. Look at everything with fresh eyes and tomorrow may hold the key.

Also, focus on your self-care. My self-care during school was a pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream every night. Seems like such a weird thing but was what my mental health needed to distract myself and kind of check out in a way.


Where did you land after completing your VN program in June 2022?

I worked at a long-term care facility for 8-months, then the county jail for a couple of months before going to work as a floor/unit nurse at Champion Healing Center. I was promoted to Assistant Director of Nursing in January this year (2024).


What is your vision for the future?

Eventually I would like to get my BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree). It’s a running joke in my family that when I’m 96-years old I’ll graduate and get my Nurse Practitioner’s license. I want to keep going for as long as I can with my career.

I’ve already accomplished a 5-year goal in a year and a half.


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