Carlos Medina did not have the typical American college experience. With both his parents immigrating from El Salvador to Ellicott City, Maryland, they wanted to give their three young boys the opportunity to pursue a better life than they had.
As a child of two immigrants, Carlos knew he wanted to honor his parent's sacrifice and decided to become the first college student in his family. In 2016, Carlos came to Penn State on a prospective college visit. There, he visited all the Penn State staples and most importantly – the College of Nursing. Carlos always had a desire to make a difference in the lives of others and the chance to give back to the community. Naturally, nursing seemed to be a worthwhile path, with a direct impact on the people around him. Carlos also gravitated towards nursing because of the ability for growth and variability. With countless specialties, Carlos knew he would find exactly where he wanted to be and best contribute to the unit.
“I knew the nursing path would be tough but in the end was going to be worth it because not only was it going to make me a better person, but it was going to give me the chance to give back to the community and help the patients I have the pleasure of working with, recover and heal from what sometimes might be their lowest moments. Getting to be a part of their recovery and healing is very humbling.”
As a homebody, the decision to go to an out-of-state school was very difficult for Carlos, being an almost three-hour drive from his home in Maryland. Although, a three-hour drive would prove minor compared to the other adversities he would encounter as an undergraduate nursing student.
Facing the many unknowns of being a first-generation college student, Carlos could not rely on his parents’ own collegiate experiences. With the majority of his extended family having also not attended college, Carlos was left to figure out many of the nuances of college by himself. Carlos had to heavily rely on guidance counselors, academic advisers, and friends for help with applying to college's senior year of high school, filling out the FAFSA application, mapping out his five-year college plan, picking his classes, and dorm life.
As a low-income student, paying for college has always been something that weighed heavily on Carlos’s mind from his senior year of high school to his final semester. Despite considering his options of going to community college, or taking a year off to work and save money, Carlos chose what he thought was best for his life and education. He expressed much gratitude for the financial support he received through the Fran Soistman Trustee Scholarship in the College of Nursing and federal financial aid programs that allowed him to become a nurse.
“Since I was young, my parents always wanted me to go to college because for varying circumstances they were never able to go themselves. They always said that they wanted me to ‘be someone in life’. In my opinion, it doesn’t matter what you do for a living, where you come from, and if you have a college education or not, you always are someone in life.” said Medina. “I was given the opportunity to be able to go to college, I was not going to let that get away from me.”
Even life outside of college hadn’t gotten any easier for Carlos. In the fall of 2017, during the period of travel bans, an executive order was issued by the President of the United States that all those who were living in the United States on asylum, visas, etc. had until a certain date to return to their respective countries. For Carlos, this meant that not only would his parents be deported, but Carlos would also potentially have to drop out of college and take guardianship of his two younger brothers or live with the fact that if he were not to take them they would either be placed in the foster system or sent back to El Salvador with his parents. Luckily for Carlos’s family and many others, the order was reversed, and his family was able to remain in the United States.
Although his family was allowed to stay in the U.S., they could no longer afford the townhouse they resided in and faced eviction during his junior year. While still at school, Carlos avoided the immediate consequences of the situation and was able to take shelter at his apartment in Hershey. Even with an eviction notice over their heads, his family gambled with the risk and continued to reside in the townhouse for some time after. With more needed time to find a new place to live, his family found an apartment that was smaller but affordable within a few days.
“I never spoke to almost anyone about everything that was happening behind the scenes of my life. My friends and professors, without knowing, are the ones that helped me feel much better about myself and helped me find my purpose again,” said Medina. “For all the educators and friends I have met in the past four years that have helped me with one of my ‘issues’ in the past, I will never be able to thank you for being there for me when you did not even know how much I needed you.”
After successfully graduating and passing the National Council Licensure Examination, Carlos now works as a registered nurse (RN) in the Operating Room (OR) at the University of Maryland Medical Center in downtown Baltimore. He is being trained to scrub and circulate and has recently started in orthopedics.
But like many nurses currently entering the workforce, the transition from nursing school to the real world is one that no one had expected. COVID-19’s recent introduction to the global health scene caused many new nurses to quickly adjust their nursing learning curve. Luckily, since starting work in the OR in July, Carlos avoided the worst of the pandemic and has seen elective cases pick up again. There is still a huge emphasis on personal protective equipment and wearing an N95 mask during intubation and extubating – the process of inserting and taking out a breathing tube – and keeping it on during the entirety of the procedure to ensure complete sterility.
“This has been a difficult time to be a new graduate and start to work in health care because it is not anything any one of us was expecting when we imagined how our careers were going to start,” said Medina. “I still believe that it is a worthwhile learning experience for all us new nurses and really everyone in the hospital to put into practice what we’ve learned in school about caring for others' wellbeing and looking out for their health and safety.”
While still having many future ambitions, Carlos is concentrating on the present and developing his skills as a new RN in the OR. He eventually hopes to go back to school to become a certified registered nurse anesthetist, a registered nurse first assistant, work in the trauma bays, or a flight nurse. He also has ambitions of becoming a clinical instructor and/or nursing instructor to educate the next generation of nursing students.
“Having to go through all that I had to while in college made me a stronger person and I like to think that I was always meant to go through the adversities that were thrust upon me because I had more to learn and grow as an individual,” said Medina. “Despite our senior year being cut short, I received a high-quality education and was prepared to go on into the real world of nursing and be able to handle almost anything.”