As a first-generation college graduate, Manuela Conde says that it was up to her to learn how to navigate the ins-and-outs of higher education — and boy, did she! Conde has not only graduated from West Coast University’s Bachelor of Science in Nursing program, but she also obtained a full scholarship to pursue a master’s degree at the University of Miami, which she will be starting later this year.
The secret to her academic success? Conde says a lot of it is due to dedication and good time management. Between classes and her job at a dermatologist’s office, where she worked around 30 hours per week, Conde had to be smart about how she utilized her time. The determination and hard work were worth it, as they allowed Conde to pursue a career she loves, where she feels like she is able to make a difference.
Did your family have any influence on you going to West Coast University?
I just decided to go! As a first-generation student, you’re out there figuring things out on your own. My mom came from a poor upbringing and she couldn’t finish school. As a single mom with three kids, she couldn’t further her education because she had to work and raise us. When I finished the program, I told her, “This degree is for me, but it’s also for you. You earned this as well.” She’s been along with me every step of the way.
What did your path to nursing look like?
Since high school, I knew I wanted to do something to help people. I love to talk, I love to be with others, I love to help in any way I can.
Unfortunately, while completing my pre-nursing requirements I had to switch concentrations. I was going through some hardship and, with nursing being so competitive, I didn’t have time to see if I could get into a program. I ended up getting a bachelor’s in health administration thinking at least I was still in healthcare. That didn’t last long. It wasn’t for me.
When life calmed down two years later, I went back to school to study nursing. One of my girlfriends was going to WCU at the time, so I visited, signed up, and started two weeks after. Once I began my clinical rotations I said, “Yes, this is it. This is what I was meant to do.”
What were some of the most memorable things you got to experience as a student?
Definitely the Global Public Health program. I am eternally grateful for it. We did a lot of community service. We did health screenings and visited middle schoolers. We were able to teach things that might seem so basic to us — what can happen if you don’t wash your hands or if you don’t have good oral hygiene. In the end, that’s what public health is about — education and trying to prevent illness. If at the end of the day something stuck, even if it’s as simple as “I need to wash my hands before I eat,” then I feel like we had some impact.
How do you find that balance between school and your personal life?
I got married last year in March, when I was a little over halfway done with the program. I’m a huge believer that you can have it all, you just need to know how to divide your time.
I was able to work nearly full time and still thrive in nursing school. I wasn’t out partying, but I was doing the things that mattered to me, like taking time to work out and spend time with my family. I would still hang out with my friends — don’t get me wrong. But I would say, “I can hang out until this time” and when that time came it was “OK, I have to go. I have to do homework.” I was very rigorous with my schedule and that’s what helped me.
Your class was close to having graduation when you were impacted by the global pandemic. How did you deal with it?
It’s easy to fall into the complaints – we didn’t get a pinning, we didn’t get this, we didn’t get that. Of course, I would have loved to have a pinning ceremony, but for me the important part is that I was able to finish the program. It worked out. I still felt very prepared when I went to take my NCLEX.
I feel like I had really good professors who were always available. I remember emailing professors at 9 p.m. thinking I wouldn’t get a reply until the next day and getting that reply that same night. They didn’t have to reply, but they cared so much that they wanted to answer your questions. Especially when the whole issue with COVID was going on, you never felt like you were alone. You always felt like you had someone there.
Was there ever a moment you wanted to give up?
Never! I always say you have 24 hours to get over whatever is going on. I have my bad days, but I give myself 24 hours, go through the emotions and tomorrow is a new day.
Nursing school was hard, but it wasn’t impossible. You might not succeed every exam. I failed the proctor one time, believe it or not! It dropped me from an A to a B-. I had just gotten back from Argentina, I had a cold, I wasn’t feeling good. But you know what? I owned it. I didn’t let it stop me. I said would make it up in the final and I did so great I passed the class with an A.
It can be very easy to take that small failure and let it define you. You can have a day when you don’t test well, or maybe you have something personal going on, but always keep your end goal in sight and remind yourself that it’s just a bad day, not a bad life.
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