Perseverance and faith pay off for Pendleton County mom
When Andrea James Stephens graduated from Pendleton County Schools in 2003, her dream was to become an RN. The path she planned was standard: finish school with her Bachelor of Nursing, pass the boards, and start her career.
Everyone knows the old saying about planning. The same held true for Stephens. She had no idea that more than nine years of waiting would pass before her dream became a reality. After a long wait of “a dream deferred,” Stephens recently passed her boards, becoming a registered nurse after years of disappointments and setbacks, personally and professionally.
Her story is as unique as it is familiar.
“I started the nursing program in the fall of 2003, but I didn’t graduate until 2009,” she says. “I was working full-time at McDonald’s while I was going to school full-time, and that took time away from my class load, so I took longer to get my degree.”
In 2009, she graduated with her Bachelor of Nursing degree, and the first part of her dream was fulfilled; however, the boards loomed. What she didn’t know was that they would be a stumbling block for her.
“I have test anxiety,” Stephens explains, “and I wasn’t prepared for what I encountered on the test.”
What she had learned in class were facts and more facts. What hadn’t been taught as strongly was the practical application of those facts. The boards are more problem-solving and critical thinking than they are repeating facts.
Stephens found out the hard way that facts wouldn’t help her pass the boards, but she also had other distractions.
“I took the boards for the first time in 2009. I was planning a wedding then, so I paid more attention to that than I did to studying for the exams.
“The second time I took them, I think it was more test anxiety and the fact that I just didn’t know how to apply the facts I had learned. I took them again in 2010, and when I didn’t pass again, I decided that my dream needed to go on the back burner. We had just bought a house, and I was focused on paying our mortgage.”
While her dream of becoming a nurse faded to the background, McDonald’s noticed her hard work for them, and she became a salaried assistant manager in 2011.
She and her husband Chad decided this was a sign to start a family. That, too, resulted in heartbreak, but they finally had a son, and then they had a daughter. Her dream of becoming an RN stayed on the back burner because they felt it was important for her to be with her kids while they were babies.
But her babies started growing up, and Stephens saw a need to put her dream back in the front of her mind.
“I do like my job at McDonald’s,” she says, “but I realized I wasn’t meant for this. Having kids, especially our daughter, made me understand that I had a new role. I had to show them both, but especially her, that they can be anything. They have to have strong wills to do what they want to in life.”
So Stephens pulled out the notes and the books, and she got a new online study program that was more hands-on, more practical than she had had in the past. She poured herself into studying, and she asked seven of her closest friends—her women’s Sunday school class—to pray for her during this time. She told few others.
The weekend before Thanksgiving, she learned that the prayers and studying paid off.
While the path has been a struggle, Stephens sees the positive aspects of the wait.
“My faith has grown,” she admits. “I have grown, too. I lacked maturity even when I finished school and took the boards before. I never had to study in high school. College was eye-opening because I had to work, but I still wasn’t prepared for the type of studying I would have to do. Now, I take it all more seriously.”
She knows that studying and preparing is part of her job. She has to know about her patients and their disorders before she walks into a room. Looking back, she isn’t sure she was prepared for that in 2009. She has proven to herself now that she knows how to handle even that aspect of her long-awaited career.
She also sees herself as a more compassionate person now. “I hear all the time that so many nurses lack compassion. I promised God that if He would let me become a nurse, I would be compassionate. I would be the light that my patients need.”
Now that she has a family and has been around illness through her younger years, she feels equipped to show that compassion to anyone she encounters.
Just because she has passed the boards, her dreams haven’t stopped. “I want to be a labor and delivery nurse,” she says.
“First, I need to get some experience under my belt.”
Her struggles didn’t just give her determination. They also gave her wisdom, especially for those who are letting dreams fizzle on that back burner she had to experience herself. Her advice to those dreamers? “Surround yourself with positive people. I had people who prayed for me, encouraged me, built me up.
“It’s OK to stop trying and take a break during a season of failure—a BREAK,” she emphasizes.
“Don’t quit. Put the dream on hold; pray about it; make sure it is meant to be, and try again.
“No mountain is so big that it can’t be moved.”.