COLUMBUS, Miss. (AP) - When Christina Clark graduated from Mississippi University for Women in a virtual commencement ceremony on May 9, she was the youngest person with a Bachelors of Science degree in nursing this year — and possibly ever — to do so.
The Columbus resident only just turned 20 and already has her certified nursing assistant license and a job working at Trinity Health Care, where she’s been working for about a year. All she has to do now, she said, is take the National Council Licensure Examination to get her nursing license and become a registered nurse, instead of CNA.
“It feels great,” Clark said of her accomplishments. “I like to be able to show other people that just because you’re young doesn’t mean you can’t achieve dreams that you want to.”
Clark’s dream started when she was a child watching her grandmother, who had chronic health issues, interact with nurses in the hospital.
“I just saw the nurses working with her and stuff like that and I thought, ‘OK, this is something I would like to do,’” Clark said. “Because I would see how happy she would be when she had a nice nurse … I would love to do that for somebody and make somebody as happy as she was with some of her nurses.”
Still, nursing at that time wasn’t the only thing she thought about doing.
“I definitely had everything in the world in my head,” she laughed.
THE PATH TO NURSING
Clark is the only person in her immediate family with interest or a career in health care. The others, including her older brother who has graduated from Mississippi State University with degrees in computer science and information technology, are more interested in computer science.
“I’m the first little weirdo that wants to be in health care,” Clark laughed. “They like technology. They’re computer heads and I’m completely opposite with health care.”
The family moved to Columbus from Atlanta when Clark was about 7, meaning Clark grew up in Columbus Municipal School District. That’s where she enrolled in the Medical Technology program at McKellar Technology Center when she was in high school.
McKellar allows students to take career-oriented classes in pathways ranging from culinary arts and auto service to engineering and law and public safety, said McKellar director Chris Bray.
The students also have the opportunity to take dual enrollment courses, and in the handful of years that’s been offered, Bray said between 10 and 15 students — including Clark — have graduated from Columbus High School with associates degrees. Six of those students graduated this year alone.
McKellar’s Medical Technology program gave Clark a head start on her nursing degree. The three-year program allowed her to take several prerequisites for the nursing program and ended with her attaining her CNA license.
Bray said Clark was a very driven student in high school.
“I think she had a plan and knew the route to go to get there to best put her in a position to get into nursing school early on and have a knowledge base to be able to complete it successfully,” he said.
But Clark said it wasn’t until after graduating high school with her CNA and getting a job working with elders at Trinity that it really hit her that nursing was what she wanted to do.
“Once I started working as a CNA, I was like, ‘OK, I like this. This is it,’” she said.
She recalled one instance where she thought a patient needed to go to the hospital, while other staff didn’t think it was necessary. However, they took the patient to the hospital anyway and it turned out she had several health issues that doctors were able to take care of.
“I think that was a good experience for me because I felt like I advocated for a patient and that was a good outcome,” Clark said.
She added she loves working with elders and making them happy.
“I just love to see people happy,” she said.” I like to provide good care and it’s a good feeling when people tell you, ‘Oh, you’re the best CNA’ or ‘You’re so sweet.’ … I like to go out of my way to make people happy, especially those elders. I like to go out of my way to do things to make them feel better. Because you know they are growing in age. We think outside the box to do things to make them feel better.”
When she’s not working or studying, Clark is singing. She has participated on and off in choir at First United Methodist Church in downtown Columbus, where, she said, she particularly likes singing in languages other than English, because it always comes as a surprise to audiences.
“I am a choir kid at heart,” she said. “I love music, I love singing. …That was just a good getaway, a good little hobby for me.”
Clark said she’s not entirely sure what’s next for her. She likes her job at Trinity, but wants to be able to work there as a registered nurse rather than a CNA. She also hasn’t entirely ruled out MUW’s postgraduate nursing program.
But for now, she’s happy with the accomplishments she’s made.
“The W’s nursing program is very intense, so people are like, ‘There’s no way you’re going to make it. You’re 18. This is not going to work.’ But when you keep going, … you see the confidence of other people grow in you,” she said. ”… They’re like, ‘Wait a minute, this girl actually did it. … We didn’t see this coming, but OK.’”
She said she just wishes her grandmother, who passed away two months after Clark began nursing school, was here to see her graduate.
“It would be awesome if she was here to see,” she said.
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