WCU Alum Urges Embracing The Bumps in The Road

As a passionate nurse-educator — and proud owner of a 1970 Volkswagen bus named “Sven” — Sheryl Pena will be the first to say it’s the journey that matters, not the destination.

Pena, who earned her bachelor’s degree in nursing from West Coast University-Ontario in August 2017, said making the move from “school-world to real-world” was nerve-wracking her first year as a registered nurse.

“I came out of school feeling that I had to know everything, and have every single answer all the time perfectly and that everything I did for my patient would fix them immediately,” Pena said. “Having to learn that’s it doesn’t always work that way, being able to adapt and to understand those kinds of things, that took me a little bit of time. But I had amazing preceptors and an amazing team that helped me make that transition.”

A firm believer that everything happens for a reason, Pena is happy for the growth she’s made as a nurse and for the things she’s seen along the way. By embracing challenges and watching how others deal with them, Pena said she tries to learn something new with each experience.

“Whether it’s a little trick that you’ve picked up from a CNA (certified nursing assistant) or something really valuable that a preceptor said that you’re going to carry with you and share with others, or even maybe overhearing the way a colleague spoke to a colleague, whatever that is, there’s something to be learned about the kind of nurse you want to be and the kinds of things you want to take into your own practice,” she said.

An emergency room nurse at Loma Linda University Medical Center-Murrieta for the past three years, Pena also teaches student-nurses in her role as a clinical instructor for West Coast University.

Besides providing hands-on coaching, Pena also tries to deliver hard-earned information and wisdom to her students. While earning her BSN, Pena juggled school, married life and working full-time as a department supervisor at Loma Linda University Medical Center. It wasn’t easy sometimes, Pena said, but by sharing her experiences she hopes it will make someone else’s path less difficult.

“I wish there had been someone to be like, ‘Look, this is going to be hard. You’re going to have to make your priorities straight, but it’s possible and you can still graduate out of nursing school with honors and go on with your life. It’s not going to be pleasant at times but it’s possible,’” she said. “I always wished that there would have been someone like that for me, so I try to help be that person for somebody else when they need to hear it too.”

The most crucial piece of advice Pena can offer, she said, is time management. The toughest part about that lesson, she added, was first acknowledging that it took her a long time to learn it.

“Our instructors would tell you, ‘It’s all about time management.’ And I would think, ‘No, it’s not. They don’t know what they’re talking about.’ But then I finally got to a point where I had to admit it and be like ‘Oh my gosh, it’s all about time management.’”

Luckily for Pena, it seems the message has stuck. Besides balancing work and teaching, Pena recently completed the online Master of Science in Nursing-Nurse Educator degree from WCU and also started her own business. What began as a logo and an idea, Pena said, grew into a two-year complete restoration of her 1970 bay window VW bus that she nicknamed Sven.

“I’ve been calling it my passion project,” Pena said of Formal Hippie, a mobile photo booth and backdrop company starring her fully restored VW bus. “I started working with different local photographers for Christmas shoots or stylized shoots but then I had a girlfriend asked if I took pictures. She called me the next day and said the client loved every picture.”

And while Pena enjoys exercising her artistic muscles with Formal Hippie, being a teacher for the next generation of nurses will always be her primary focus.

“We talk about patient-centered care with nursing. At WCU, we talk about student-centered learning,” she said. “There’s a point at clinical about halfway through where you start seeing them think and talk like nurses and not like students. That’s super rewarding for me and I just love everything about it. The key is to be open to the process and that’s going to create opportunities that you had never even imagined.”

WCU provides career guidance and assistance but cannot guarantee employment. The views and opinions expressed are those of the individuals and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs or position of the school or of any instructor or student.