Gina Lyles graduated from Summit College’s Licensed Vocational Nurse program in 2007. It is ten years later, yet she still enthusiastically recalls how impactful her experience there was. As Gina would say, “When Summit tells you lifetime placement, they mean it.” She was just there the other day to get assistance in obtaining a traveling nurse position. She received help updating her resume and enhancing her interviewing skills. Summit College truly cares about their students’ well-being, even years after graduation.
How Gina got to this point is quite inspiring. In 1999, Gina’s father was very ill and, therefore, was placed on hospice. His home health registered nurse (RN) used to come to the house quite often. On one particular day, the RN asked who had packed his wound. Gina did not want to speak up at first because she assumed she had done it wrong and was embarrassed. It turned out Gina had done it perfectly and the RN was very impressed. She taught Gina how to reposition it every two hours and even encouraged her to go to nursing school. At first Gina told herself no. She was a single mom, working a warehouse job for $9 an hour. “I would work overtime and just make it. I was broke.” She needed to focus on working to take care of her children, not her education. Also, although Gina believed her children to be intelligent and gifted, she did not have the same confidence in herself. But with the support of her family and the memories of her father’s nurse, about four years later, Gina enrolled at Summit College. Unfortunately, Gina’s father did pass away that year in 1999 from lung cancer, but he continues to be an inspiration and motivation for Gina to help other people. She continues to provide care and support to those who need it, just as he did.
For Gina, her experience at Summit College was not just about a nursing education; it taught her valuable life lessons. With a knowing laugh, Gina told the story of her first visit to the college. “My sister and I went to Summit for my first interview, and I didn’t get in. I tested high but I was clueless. I was a warehouse worker. I dressed in jeans and a T-shirt.” Apparently, the admissions counselor explained to her that next time she came in for an interview, she would have to look like she really wanted it. Gina had not even realized at that point how important professionalism was – the first of many life lessons she learned from Summit. “I went back dressed up, and she let me in. I asked my sister, ‘What if I hadn’t gone back?’ She said the counselor knew I would. She knew I was going to come back and do better.”
Support from the people in her life is what has made Gina so successful. Her sister and brother-in-law actually paid for Gina to not work so she could go to LVN school. This way she could focus on her education and truly succeed. Another layer of invaluable support was Gina’s teachers and her tutor. “The teachers are the root of my success. I told myself no, that you have to be smart to do this. Well, I had to get tutoring, but I passed.” Every Thursday, Gina would meet one-on-one with her tutor and receive personalized help and attention. If Gina was late to school from dropping off her kids, the teachers would help her out. She learned so much from her courses, but she also learned how to manage her money, how to manage her time, and how to be professional because of Summit. Gina spoke of a specific time when she wanted to wear her fake nails to school, which is not allowed in any nursing program. They sent her home, and she ended up missing a test. It was instances such as these that built character. “The teachers were amazing. I got all the support I ever needed.”
Immediately after graduation, Gina obtained a position at a convalescent home. Her children were still in school at the time, so she needed to be able to work night shifts. It was a perfect fit. A few years later, Gina became a school nurse. She has been doing this for the last seven years. She works one-on-one with students, and her current patient is a little girl who has electrolyte issues. At night, Gina also works as a personal nurse for a home health agency and every other weekend she works at a hospital. However, it is not work for Gina. She absolutely loves what she does and cannot express that sentiment enough. “There’s nothing I don’t love about my career. I am just happy. I’ve found my niche.” And apparently it is a family affair. Gina’s little sister went to Summit and graduated three years ago from the LVN program. Both of Gina’s sons are registered nurses, as well. She made both of them become certified nursing assistants (CNAs) while in high school so they had something to fall back on. One went to school for his Bachelors of Science in Nursing, and the other became a flight nurse in the military. “It guided our lives,” Gina explained. “Summit helped my family.”
Looking to the future, Gina does plan on continuing further to become a registered nurse. She is done with her RN prerequisites and has been accepted into a program. She also completed her IV certification through Summit. But for right now, she is traveling to Northern California, near Sacramento, for a 13-week traveling nurse position. A friend of hers who also graduated from Summit has already been there for about six months now. Gina is excited because it is a retired population, which she loves working with, and the position takes care of a rental car and her accommodations and pays well, too.
Reflecting on her journey, Gina cannot contain her enthusiasm. “My life was good, but now it’s just better. I have lifetime friends; I’ve learned so much from that place. I thought I was going to dread school because I had a rough time, but I didn’t feel like it was a bad thing. I can’t explain it. It’s an unexplainable feeling. It changed my whole life.” This part of her life started all those years ago when she had no experience, but someone told her she could do something – her father’s nurse. “Now I have my own name, not just ‘Mom.’ My own title.” When asked what advice she would give to other students so they too can succeed just as she has, she deferred to one of her professors. “One of my teachers said to always do the right thing even when no one is looking. And that’s exactly what I do.”