Nurse Itsareny Valdes is an expert at multitasking. That includes working full time, becoming a new mom and completing a college degree – all at once.
After earning her associate degree in nursing in December 2020 from Ameritech College (now Joyce University of Nursing and Health Sciences), Valdes worked as an RN for a few years before deciding to continue her education. However, she needed a bachelor’s degree in nursing to keep progressing in her career.
Her husband, Jaysen, supported that goal. He was finishing a bachelor’s program in strategic management at the time and the couple was also expecting their first child, so the timing wasn’t exactly ideal. However, Valdes was determined to make it work. She just had to get past one big obstacle: finding a degree program that could complement her busy life instead of disrupting it.
“With the ADN program, I had to be in class – physically there – and it was just a little bit more stressful because I had to do a set schedule,” she remembered, noting she didn’t want to repeat that experience. Valdes was also realistic about the challenges of balancing school and motherhood.
“With pregnancy I knew that it would get harder to finish school because I’d be responsible for a baby,” she said, “but I used it as a motivation to finish my education.”
When a coworker recommended the accelerated online RN to BSN program at Southern Utah University, Valdes discovered it was just the right fit for her needs. She enrolled in July 2022 and gave birth to her daughter, Anaya, just one month later. Valdes graduated with her Bachelor of Science in Nursing in April 2023.
“With the online program, I feel like it’s so much more flexible. I [could] get things done and not have to worry about keeping up with my job or taking care of my daughter,” she said. “It’s definitely been a lifesaver.”
Connection and Community
Valdes lives in Provo, Utah, and works at The Surgery Center at Grove Creek in nearby Pleasant Grove. She’s currently a PACU and Pre-Op RN. Valdes is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A serendipitous encounter during an 18-month mission trip to Sinaloa and Sonora, Mexico led to her current career.
“I had a companion who was designated the mission nurse,” Valdes said. “She would mostly help people who got dehydrated because it was very common in that part of Mexico.”
Valdes also took note of the way her colleague responded to emergencies such as whenever a missionary was injured during the trip. “It just fascinated me how kind and helpful she was, and it inspired me to pursue nursing,” she said. “I really liked how she connected with people.”
One of her favorite classes at SUU was Community Health Nursing, which helped her build on that experience and learn best practices for supporting patients in different care settings. “It gave me the opportunity to reach out to the community,” she said. “You either go to a clinic and do hours there or find your own project.”
Valdes spent her required clinical hours for the course putting together an initiative to educate children on dental health. She researched project models, provided evidence to support her approach, handled the logistics and even worked directly with families to offer the services.
“I was able to teach young kids about oral health, like brushing their teeth. It was fun,” she remembered. “It made me think ‘Okay, I can do this. I can research and I can apply it, and I can organize something to help the community.'”
Influencing Quality Within Healthcare was another important SUU course for Valdes because she was able to apply the skills she was learning in real time. The class helped her work with peers to address patient feedback, improve care quality and streamline surgical processes. “I definitely used a lot of what I learned in that class in my work,” she noted.
Inspiring Others to Dream Big
Valdes is a first-generation college student, and she sees her degree as much more than a personal achievement. “My parents and siblings are really proud of me,” she said. “I’m the oldest, so I’m trying to set that example for my younger siblings.”
She also wants to inspire others to pursue their dreams through education, and to continue on that path herself. Her next goal is to earn a master’s degree in nursing and become a women’s health nurse practitioner in a fertility clinic.
Valdes acknowledges that blending nursing school and motherhood had its challenges, before and after her daughter arrived. Still, she wouldn’t trade the experience. “It wasn’t easy, but I’ve grown so much because of it,” she said.
She found learning more about evidence-based practice and advanced clinical components of nursing empowered her professionally. Studying leadership and management during the program allowed her to take more control of her career as well. “It’s made me progress and be able to find something that I’m interested in rather than someone putting me in [any role] that just happens to be available,” she said.
Valdes now has a few words of encouragement for other RNs – and new moms – who may be waiting for the right moment to earn their bachelor’s degree.
“Just go for it,” she advised. “A lot of people are afraid because they think ‘oh, I’m too busy,’ but the online classes really make it flexible and easier, making it possible to reach your goals.”
She believes that the structure of SUU’s online RN to BSN program and the level of support available can help other nurses succeed as well. “It’s pretty straightforward and there are always people who advise and help you out along the way,” she said. “I definitely recommend it.”