KINGSTON, R.I. – May 14, 2010 – Donna Figueroa began thinking about pursuing a nursing degree when she was pregnant with her son Gianni, who is now 11 years old.
“I loved everything about my pregnancy, and I had a great nurse-midwife,” Figueroa said. “As I observed the midwives, I realized this was what I wanted.”
She will take her first step toward her goal of becoming a midwife when she earns her bachelor’s degree in nursing from the University of Rhode Island May 23.
For the past 11 years, the Cranston resident has juggled her classes and clinical commitments with her job as assistant director in the University of Rhode Island’s Office of International Education and National Student Exchange, a position she has held since 1992.
Even though she earned her bachelor’s degree in international studies from The American University at a traditional age and later a master’s degree in international administration from World Learning’s School for International Training, Figueroa said she would not have made it as a young student in nursing.
“I admire the young undergraduate students who go through this program with a lot less experience than I have,” Figueroa said. “There is no group of students more mature than nursing students by their senior year. By that time, they are fully functioning nurses. In those roles, they are at the bedside when a patient is giving birth, dying, recovering from surgery and dealing with chronic illness and pain.”
As Figueroa pursued her nursing degree, her son was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes as a 4-year-old, her mother died and her father was diagnosed with lymphoma.
“There were a lot of challenges, but I kept getting back on the horse,” Figueroa said.
She acknowledges that great support from her family, the URI faculty, classmates and colleagues in her office was critical.
Hector, her husband of 17 years, was tops among them. “My husband has been great. I couldn’t have done it without him. He’s been putting our son on the bus and doing all the other things that allowed me to keep going.”
She also credits the late Ruth Waldman, the former associate dean of nursing, with helping her progress. “If it weren’t for Ruth, I would not have made it. She was so encouraging. When I began the program, I asked her if this was doable. With a young child, family responsibilities and a job, I was half hoping she would say it wasn’t. The faculty was also very supportive.”
Figueroa credits University College Dean Jayne Richmond and her direct supervisor, Dania Brandford-Calvo, director of URI’S Office of International Education, with allowing her to reduce her regular full-time schedule to 3-and-a-half days a week.
“That was important because clinical experiences are 8 hours a day, and that doesn’t even count travel time. This also gave me time to study and spend a little time with my family.”
Figueroa will now return to a full-time schedule at a job she loves. “I love working with the students, but I want to pursue something else. Even if I never use my nursing education directly, I am so much richer for the experience.”
A former Fulbright Scholarship winner under the International Education Administrators Program who studied in South Korea in June 1996, Figueroa has a wide range of clinical nursing experience.
Among her placements were Tollgate OB/GYN, South County Hospital’s Women’s Care Unit, Hasbro Children’s Hospital, Hope High School-Based Health Care Clinic and Roger Williams Medical Center’s Orthopedic and Neurosurgical Unit.
“One of the big reasons I am trying to move into health care is I want to address wellness and lifestyle issues,” Figueroa said. “One of my role models is (Associate Professor) Diane Martins, a community nursing specialist who does a lot of work outside the hospitals, especially with the homeless. Some students come into the program thinking nursing is only about the hospitals, but there is so much more—prevention, wellness, education. Society is really not taking advantage of how diverse nursing is. I see myself some day as a program manager in health promotion.”
But for now, Figueroa is planning for a family celebration May 23. “My husband, son and father will be at the pinning ceremony and graduation. They have all been so understanding.”
URI Department of Communications & Marketing photo by Michael Salerno Photography.