Even though they started their careers in different areas of healthcare, Charles and Cindy Vergel de Dios are now both nurses, both WCU alumni and also husband and wife — for better or for worse. Cindy had been a respiratory therapist, while Charles worked in a variety of roles before becoming a surgical technologist. He started by helping at a friend’s family home health business.
“I started doing their billing and then it progressed from there,” Charles said. “I helped to coordinate our LVNs and RNs. And then, it just wasn’t enough for me, so I decided to move on. I was able to get a job at a medical lab. I started from the bottom where I was basically a courier picking up specimens. I moved up to processing and to eventually running tests.”
It was after they met and began dating that Cindy suggested he trained to be a surgical technologist.
“At that time, I was like, ‘Be a surgical tech? What is that?’” Charles said.
But the career turned out to be a great match. After earning his certificate, Charles worked in the operating room as a surgical technologist for 15 years before the time came for both of them to take the next step in their healthcare journey.
How did you guys meet?
Charles: We met through mutual friends. A good friend of mine that I went to school with in the Philippines was dating a good friend of hers from the Philippines as well. They introduced us to each other, and we met at a concert in downtown LA.
Cindy: I was already a respiratory therapist, but Charles did not know that. He thought I was a bus driver.
Wait — what? Who told him you were a bus driver?
Cindy: I did! I used to do ambulance and helicopter transport, so I wore these blue pants that looked like the ones bus drivers wear. And I even told him my bus route! I can’t lie for a long time, so I told him. “Sorry, I’m a respiratory therapist who also does ambulance and helicopter transport.” But he almost introduced me to his parents as a bus driver.
So how did you both end up going back to school to study nursing?
Cindy: My plan was to go back after he proposed to me and we got married and he finished [his training for] surgical tech, but then I never had a chance to go back because of all the responsibilities. I finally went to nursing school after we had our second daughter.
Charles: When my wife and I got married, throughout the year she had been pushing me to go back to school. She’s more the type that plans everything out. To be honest, I had never thought of being a nurse. I loved what I did — but chances of growth as a surgical tech, it wasn’t that promising. So eventually one day driving home I said, “you know what, let me think about it.” Next thing I knew, a day or so later she drove me to school.
So once you made the decision to go back to school, what was it like?
Charles: The last time I was at an actual college was about 20 years ago, so me getting back in the game was very intimidating. When I went back, I was in my 40s. A lot of the students were in their early 20s. The good thing is my wife was there at school going through the same thing. A few of the youngest students saw me as a mentor, which I didn’t mind. I was actually a mentor for CNSA. A few friends and classmates that looked up to me still call me “dad,” which at the beginning was very weird. One of them actually just texted me yesterday to see how I was doing. She’s trying to get help as far as connections with work, which is one thing I’m willing to do.
While you weren’t in the same cohort, there was a time when you were both in school together. How did you manage going through nursing school with two little kids?
Cindy: It’s very challenging. I still worked at that time because we need to make sure we can keep the house and everything, and that our kids will eat. It’s a lot of trying to understand how we can get this our finances straightened out and have family time with the kids — so it was very challenging. Cooking went away. Our kitchen became the closest restaurants over in town. But working in healthcare helped me with my time management and communication.
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about going back to school to study nursing? Is it a doable career shift later in your working life?
Charles: The first thing I ask is, “Why do you want to be a nurse?” You’re not there for the money. You’re there to help someone. Even if, let’s say, you fall into the role of a psych nurse, you may not be physically helping them, but you’re helping them out psychologically and mentally — and that makes a very big difference. The only thing I can tell you is it’s going to be hard, but eventually, in the long run, it’ll be worth it.