Apr 11 2012
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A Dream Comes True: A Single Mom with Five Kids Becomes a Nurse

By Christy O’Keefe, RN and member, 2009 cohort, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Jobs to Careers program

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My name is Christy O’Keefe and I am currently an emergency room RN at the Owensboro Medical Health System Hospital in Kentucky. I had always dreamed of becoming an RN. I love working one-on-one with patients and their families and working as part of a team, with my coworkers, to help improve patients’ health. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Jobs to Careers program helped to make that dream into reality for me when I participated in the program’s 2009 cohort, the first in our area. It was a partnership between Owensboro Community and Technical College and the Owensboro Medical Health System.

At the time, I was a 36-year-old single mom with five kids, doing administrative work for the hospital. I needed to maintain my full-time job for the income and insurance benefits, so it would have been impossible for me to attend classes at our local, traditional nursing school because their classes were held during the day. The RWJF Jobs to Careers nursing program allowed me to work full time during the weekday, go to classes and do my clinical work on weeknights and weekends. Some of the classes were even held at my job.

Not only did obtaining my RN degree help improve my family financially, I am now able to spend more time with my family because I work 12-hour weekend shifts and have the weekdays off to be there for my kids.

Was the road to my dream easy? No, not always, there were some days I would doubt myself and my ability to make it through. But if you think about it, usually the things we want the most are the things we have to work the hardest for—otherwise those achievements would not mean so much.

I was also fortunate enough to be surrounded by a supportive family, including my parents who helped out with the kids, and friends. Along the way, I encountered some negative people who doubted my ability to become an RN, but I just let that negativity feed my determination to achieve my goal. I also surrounded myself with others who wanted the same thing I did.

I developed close relationships with everyone in my Jobs to Careers cohort and it helped to see the hard work, dedication and sacrifices that we each were making to reach our goal. We still stay in contact with each other today.

Now, looking back, I wish I could have gone back to school sooner because I love my job. I feel blessed by what I am able to do for others. I will be ever grateful to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, my family, friends, coworkers, employer and instructors for helping make this possible for me.

For other people who may be pursing their dream, I’m sharing a lyric from a song that helped carry me through the rough times and keep things in perspective when I was in school: Dream Big by Ryan Shupe and the Rubberband.

When you cry, be sure to dry your eyes,

Cause better days are sure to come.

And when you smile, be sure to smile wide,

And don’t let them know that they have won

And when you walk, walk with pride,

And don’t show the hurt inside,

Because the pain will soon be gone.

And when you dream, dream big,

As big as the ocean, blue

Cause when you dream, it might come true.

When I hear that song it still gets to me and reminds me of the hurdles I have jumped to get where I am now. The bottom line—always believe in yourself!

Read more about the nursing workforce here.

Tags: Careers, Human Capital, Jobs to Careers, Mentoring, Nurses, Nursing, Voices from the Field