WCU BSN Alumnus Finds Purpose in Nursing Career

We don’t always get it right on the first try. For Joe Carrillo, it was his third career that gave him passion and meaning. Through West Coast University, he found his purpose through nursing. The program created a pathway for Carrillo, who now works in one of the largest trauma centers in the nation. His interest in medicine really sparked after experiencing his own traumatic injury.

Back in January 2016, Carrillo had been sledding downhill when he crashed into a tree. After being evacuated, they found he had shattered his kneecap into 27 pieces. Carrillo could not walk for most of that year. Instead, he spent his time in physical therapy, underwent multiple surgeries, had regular doctor’s appointments, wound checks, staple removals, X-rays and more. Over the course of that year, Carrillo was supported by his nurses and medical staff. With their help, he slowly but surely regained use of those muscles.

However, Carrillo did not leave the hospital with only the ability to walk. He left realizing the joy and sense of accomplishment in each of his nurses. After spending time in the engineering field, he found the work not fulfilling nor rewarding. His stint as an emergency medical technician initially opened his eyes to a career in medicine. By observing his nurses, he realized the profound difference he could make in that same field.

“I saw myself (physically) improving and I wanted to get out of my line of work in engineering,” Carrillo said.

Only by returning to school could he pursue this new life and career path. Knowing that his brother had enjoyed his experience attending West Coast University, Carrillo decided to look into WCU’s Bachelor of Science in Nursing program.

“Instead of just saying ‘Hey I am going back to school.’ I had an opportunity to do it,” Carrillo said.

Carrillo was admitted to the 2017 cohort. Upon starting, he realized he made the right choice. He had found purpose in his work.

“Once I got into nursing I said, ‘Man this is my jam,’” Carrillo said. “It makes me feel useful. I can help other people. I get something out of it and they do too.”

He saw that nursing also offered a great variety of opportunities: whether working in the surgery center, labor delivery or the emergency room — where Carrillo currently works.

“You can literally do anything on the planet as a nurse. You can find your niche,” he said. “You never get bored and you can always help somebody and yourself.”

As Carrillo continued through the program, he realized certain science classes he found difficult during undergrad now came much easier. He saw the purpose and value in learning the materials and applying it to real life situations.

One of his goals after WCU was to volunteer with a non-governmental organization, or NGO. He has now volunteered his time in Mexico, Belize and with Boy Scouts on Catalina Island. Only with a thorough, hands-on education could Carrillo have pursued such opportunities right away.

“What I really enjoyed was the practical application of the classes. Everything was hands on,” Carrillo said. “Nothing was ‘imagine.’ It was all ‘let’s go to lab right now and touch this patient who can blink and talk.’”

One of Carrillo’s favorite aspects about the program was the public health component. He found that many of his friend’s programs did not have a similar focus. Yet it was his public health courses that brought his education and practical application together.

“Everything about the program was structured well,” he said. “It took everybody from zero knowledge of nursing and step by step built upon that.”

They went from a theoretical education to seeing the bigger picture. Apart from his tangible nursing skills, Carrillo credits WCU for educating him on the management and politics of healthcare. By learning about the finances involved in nursing (such as finances and billing), students are given the opportunity to go into healthcare management if they so choose.

“You went from this micro to macro picture of how nursing interacts with the rest of healthcare,” Carrillo said. “It gave a very comprehensive view of how medicine works.”

The program typically lasts just over 39 months. However, Carrillo arrived to WCU with a bachelor’s in health science so his program took only two and a half years. After already earning a degree, Carrillo feared that investing over two more years into a nursing education would be a waste of time.

He described the experience as a “roller coaster” climbing up the tracks. Although he may have entered with some trepidation, once he reached the top everything came together quite quickly.

“My fear was wasting two years of my life,” he said. “But a year and a half in and I had two job offers before (finishing) the program.”

He was chosen to be the class speaker and then sent to Belize with the Global Public Health program.

“Who would have thought two years ago I would be here?” he said. “I barely wanted to start the program and West Coast made me into not only a good student but a good nurse.”

That was when the roller coaster started its descent and he could actually enjoy the ride. He was finally getting the chance to pursue his dream job.

“My biggest regret is I didn’t do it sooner,” he said. “That is my only regret.”

Carrillo goes on to advise future students not to wait to pursue an education with WCU.

“In the grand scheme of things, take that two- or three-year chunk of time,” he said. “What else (are you) going to be doing that will be more productive than going into this career?”

Carrillo believes the WCU education really offers something for everyone. Whether working as a nurse in the traditional sense, reviewing documents or managing hospitals: WCU has it all.

“It doesn’t matter what you want to do. You always have an opportunity to change that,” he said. “Invest that time and money in yourself. Don’t wait. Just do it. Pace yourself and make friends with everyone in your cohort.”

His journey may have been unique and non-traditional but it’s the destination that really counts. Carrillo maintains that it’s all about finding something that gives you purpose.

“However you get there, nursing is a profession where you have a sense of accomplishment,” he said. “Because I went to work, because I interacted with patients there was a change and improvement in somebody else’s life.”

Now, Carrillo works at Riverside Community Hospital, one of the largest trauma centers in Southern California and the sixth largest trauma center in the country. They are one of three hospitals in the country that removes blockages in the brain. They pay Carrillo to train and continue his educational journey.

“All these things I never thought I would be able to do,” he said. “It’s crazy to think what I have ahead of me. I can only learn more from here.”

His future looks bright. He will always consider himself #WCUProud.

“To me, #WCUProud means that I was able to come through this program with a great group of people who I learned from as much as they learned from me,” he said. “West Coast has really offered a cohesive comprehensive program. They don’t mess around. You end up with a very ambitious, energetic group of people and I’m proud that I made it through West Coast because it’s not an easy program.”

Yet WCU offered Carrillo much more than just a nursing education.

“(We learned) not only how to be a good nurse,” Carrillo said. “But how to be a good person and a good professional in the field. It’s more than a sum of parts.”

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.