Finding a New Career through Victor Valley College

Laura Kelley, Victor Valley nursing student, and her family

Laura Kelley was working at a local Target store when she resolved to find a new career in the booming field of healthcare. Thanks to the workforce training she received at Victor Valley College, Kelley is now succeeding as a registered nurse at St. Mary Medical Center and is on her way toward earning a bachelor of science degree that will open up even more opportunities.

“Victor Valley has a well-known program with a reputation for putting out good nurses,” Kelley said. “And it’s affordable.”

Victor Valley is one of seven community colleges in the Inland Empire and Desert region with a nursing program, which is just one in an extensive menu of healthcare employment training programs Riverside and San Bernardino counties. Good thing, too. The number of jobs in the field of nursing – which include registered nurses, licensed vocational nurses, nursing assistants, and home health aides – is projected to expand by 5,725 annually over the next five years, according to the California Centers of Excellence, a leading source of regional workforce information for the California Community Colleges system.

That sort of future was what drew Kelley to Victor Valley College.

Born in Montclair and raised in Hesperia, Kelley was part of the first graduating class at Sultana High School, when she earned her diploma in 1997. She had the first of her four children in 2000 and spent 11 years as a stay-at-home mom before re-entering the workforce and finding a job at a local Target store. Two years later, she decided she wanted to do something more meaningful, leading her to find work as a nursing assistant at St. Mary Medical Center in Apple Valley.

It was while she was caring for and comforting a critically ill patient that her life changed.

“His story just touched me,” Kelley said. “It made me realize how I just wanted to be there for people who were struggling and were looking for more time that they could spend with their family. I wanted to make a difference.”

Kelley began taking online classes at Barstow College before enrolling in the nursing program at Victor Valley College in the spring of 2015, determined to become a registered nurse.

It wasn’t easy. Among the personal challenges she had to overcome: hip surgery after being rear-ended in an accident; cervical cancer; a son treated for a bone tumor; and her marriage ending in divorce. Carry on she did, however, working full-time, once she was able, at St. Mary Medical Center to support herself and her children while attending Victor Valley College. Meanwhile, she was completing clinical assignments at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center, Victor Valley Global Medical Center, Desert Valley Hospital, Kaiser Permanente Fontana Medical Center, and Community Hospital of San Bernardino.

Her determination paid off in June of 2017, when Kelley graduated with more than 60 other nursing students. She passed the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) last August, the last step before becoming a registered nurse, and she has been at St. Mary Medical Center’s Surgical Unit ever since, doing everything from reviewing charts and ensuring that patients are taking their prescribed medications, to helping them go to the restroom, checking vital signs, and more.

Kelley’s work is not done. She has since enrolled in the online Bachelor of Science in Nursing Program at Cal State Dominguez Hills. And she is entertaining thoughts of following her mother’s footsteps as a nurse practitioner.

Her oldest child, an 18-year-old daughter, will be enrolling at Victor Valley College in the fall.

“Laura represents the best of what our community colleges have to offer,” said Victor Valley College Nursing Professor Sally Thibeault. “Not everyone has the time or the money to go straight to a four-year college or university. A lot of our students are working, are caring for family, so we’re serving a population that is often overlooked, and yet the quality of our programs is just as good as what you might find anywhere.”

Kelley agreed.

“VVC has a very good program,” she said. “The school has a very high pass rate on the NCLEX exam, and they really do care about their students.”

In fact, in each of the past three years, more than 98 percent of Victor Valley College nursing school graduates have passed their NCLEX exam, representing one of the highest pass rates for a California Community College. What’s more, ranked Victor Valley College No. 4 in California, praising the program for producing graduates who are ready to work as health team members.

Kelley’s advice to others who may be contemplating following a similar path?

“You cannot take it lightly. It will consume your life. You are tested constantly, you’re always studying, you’re doing your clinical assignments at different hospitals and medical centers. You have to be dedicated and understand the seriousness of how it’s going to affect your life. But if nursing is your passion, Victor Valley College will help you reach your goal.”

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