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She Never Let Go of Her Nursing Dream

Roxana Toledo

Roxana Toledo

Roxana Toledo says she always wanted to be a nurse.

But when she became a mother at 19, she knew she had to put that dream on hold for a while.

She probably wasn’t thinking that a while would turn out to be 20 years, but that became the reality. Over those two decades, she raised a family, found a career in healthcare — including the past several years as an emergency room tech at Mercy Medical Center — and, most importantly, she never, ever let go of the nursing dream.

Indeed, she enrolled in the nursing program at Elms College in Chicopee and graduated in May. She is still in Mercy’s ER, but now as a nurse, a job with different responsibilities — and somewhat different rewards.

And one that … well, was worth that 20-year wait.

“I love it … it’s what I always wanted to do,” Toledo said, referring not only to the role of a nurse, but the ER setting itself. “I like helping people; this work gives you a sense that you’re doing something good.”

As for that setting, it is one that she has always found intriguing, one with many different kinds of challenges and opportunities to provide both care and comfort.

“You see different things every day, you learn new things every day, and that’s what I like about it,” she said. “I could be a pedi nurse one day and an OB nurse another day; it’s all different kinds of nursing in one place.”

Toledo joked that she wasn’t the oldest nursing graduate in the Elms College class of 2024. In fact, a few were her senior.

“We try to take away that sense of panic so that they can hear what we’re saying.”

Those stats help show that nursing is a field that some are finding later in life, after trying some other professions. Or after finding some inspiration from somewhere or someone or some experience. Or after life, as it usually does, has offered up some challenges and obstacles.

In most cases, the aspiration, the dream, to be a nurse was always there. But pursuit of that dream couldn’t happen until the time was right.

So it was with Toledo, who told BusinessWest that the rigors, and expense, of nursing school were not something she could take on while raising three young children.

But she was always passionate about healthcare and serving others, and has worked in the field since she was 19, mostly as a medical assistant, including lengthy stints at clinics within the Baystate Health umbrella.

“I had all three of my kids by the time I was 24, and I wanted to focus on them first,” she told BusinessWest. “And then, I decided that, when I got older, I would realize my goal, which was to be a nurse, and go back to school.”

Roxana Toledo says the team at the Mercy Emergency Department is like a family.

Roxana Toledo says the team at the Mercy Emergency Department is like a family.

Nursing school was certainly a balancing act involving her studies, her night-shift work at Mercy, and being there for children, who were now in high school and college.

“There was a lot of running around, to be sure,” she recalled. “My youngest played volleyball, and my oldest was in college.”

Toledo persevered and started as a grad nurse in the Mercy ER in January, continuing her training since then and taking on a new role and new responsibilities in a setting she knows well.

As she talked about it, she said the ER is like most settings in healthcare — where teamwork is critical and members of the team have each others’ backs. But it is somewhat unique in that every day really is different, and those providing care to patients and their families are caring for them in a setting that can be intimidating — even, to use her word, “scary.”

“We try to take away that sense of panic so that they can hear what we’re saying,” she explained, referring to both patients and their families, who are coping with perhaps the worst day of their lives, or at least one of them.

As for the families of patients, they are certainly a critical part of the equation, she added.

“You’re there to care for their loved ones and provide them with that sense of safety,” she explained. “You’re there to help them also, not just the patient; you’re there to help them understand what’s going on with their loved one and give them that sense that we’re doing everything we can.”

Speaking of family, that’s a word Toledo used in a different context — to describe the large team that works there, how they work together, and, most importantly, how they support one another to provide high-quality care.

“In the ER, we’re kind of like a family — we’re always helping each other out,” she explained. “Without each other, it doesn’t work. I’ve been there for a long time, so they know me, and they always have my back. And it’s very helpful, as a new nurse, for them to have my back.

“I can ask them anything — I feel comfortable going to anyone,” she went on, “because they’re like family.”