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Perspective | A passion for caring: Returning to college to pursue nursing

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Transitioning from a dedicated Nurse Aide (NA) to a Registered Nurse (RN), Traci Ashley’s return to college as an adult was fueled by her desire to help others. 

Having once set aside her college aspirations for the role of wife and mother, Ashley first returned to college when her youngest child was 16 to become a nurse aide. Ashley was inspired after seeing how helpful and caring her father’s nurse aide was when he was ill. 

Ashley, now 54, had begun taking RN prerequisites at another community college when her journey took an unexpected turn. In September 2021, she crossed paths with Janine Wall, a member of Piedmont Community College’s (PCC) nursing faculty. Wall was conducting clinicals at Duke Regional Hospital in Durham, where Ashley worked.

Ashley approached Wall about the idea of going back to school to become an RN. Wall informed Ashley about PCC’s inaugural Caswell County evening/weekend nursing cohort that started January 2022 and encouraged her to apply. By November 2021, Ashley had decided to pursue the program since it would allow her to continue working.

“She told me she had observed the PCC students on her floor at Duke Regional and ‘liked what she saw,’” Wall said.  “In the spring of 2022, I had the opportunity to teach Traci on the first-year level at Caswell. It was a true pleasure watching her transition from CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) to ‘thinking like a nurse.’ Committed from the very beginning, I watched her press on toward her goal of becoming a registered nurse.”

On Dec. 11, 2023, Ashley was among the first of seven nursing students to graduate from PCC’s inaugural Caswell County Nursing class. Several weeks later the same class celebrated a 100% pass rate on the NCLEX-RN (National Council Licensure Examination) nursing exam. Furthermore, Ashley was scheduled to make the switch to RN at Duke Regional Hospital at the end of January 2024. 

“PCC gave me the opportunity to change my education and my career level so that I can do more to help people,” Ashley said. 

Ashley explained that her experiences with PCC had always been positive even before she was enrolled as her son and daughter-in-law had previously attended. 

“There’s a friendliness here that I’ve never experienced at other schools,” Ashley said. “This really is more of a hometown school.”

Ashley said that she struggled with doubt, a lack of self-confidence, and a reluctance to start something new when returning to college as an adult, but she praised PCC’s nursing faculty for their constant support. She is especially thankful to Wall for introducing her to the program. Ashley said that PCC’s nursing faculty is often referred to as the “dream team” for their knowledge of nursing and the support they give to their students. 

“Now, I’m back on that same floor at Duke Regional where my initial encounter with Traci took place and there she is, a full-time RN, changing lives by the excellent care she gives,” Wall said.  “And she is serving as a source of encouragement to the first-year students I have on the floor that the ‘struggle is worth it all.’ I’m so proud our paths intersected, and PCC enabled Traci to fulfill her dream. No doubt her healing hands and heart will touch many during her career in nursing, the noblest of professions.”

When asked about what barriers she ran into as an adult student, Ashley explained that she did not find any barriers during her time at PCC, but that she always found support whenever needed. 

Ashley’s advice for other adults considering returning to college is succinct and powerful: “Don’t wait. Start now.”

Serving Person and Caswell counties, PCC is a public two-year institution operating under the direction of a local Board of Trustees and a dedicated leadership team.  PCC transforms lives, strengthens community, and inspires individuals to excellence. PCC strives to be recognized nationally for achieving exceptional levels of success in student learning and completion, gainful employment, equity, and affordability.

PCC’s Associate Degree Nursing curriculum provides individuals with the knowledge and skills necessary to provide nursing care to clients in a variety of settings. The program was expanded in spring 2022 to include instruction on the Caswell County Campus with an evening/weekend cohort. This expansion also enabled multiple entry points as the Caswell County Campus cohort begins yearly in the spring and the Person County Campus cohort begins yearly in the fall.

Felicia Holt

Felicia Holt is the communications specialist for Piedmont Community College (PCC). She was previously the executive assistant to the president at PCC. Holt is also a news contributor for the website NewReleaseToday.