Lissette Gabriel said she usually felt nervous before visiting clinical sites as a vocational nursing student at American Career College-Ontario. Except, she said, during her obstetrics rotation at East Los Angeles Doctors Hospital.
Maybe it was because Gabriel had already been there once before -- on her birthday.
"I had joked around when we found out what the OB sites were saying, 'Oh, I was born there. Wouldn't that be funny if I go there?' And little did I know, I walked into class when they were posted and saw I was going to Doctors Hospital," she said. "I was meant to go."
Once her family learned the news, Gabriel's mother insisted she pose for a photo outside the hospital while holding her birth certificate.
"It was a nice experience, helping these mothers with their newborns because I could see how this was my mom, you know, some years ago with me," she said.
During her rotation at Doctors Hospital, Gabriel and another ACC-Ontario classmate also witnessed a birth -- a moment that made a lasting impact on the pair.
"There are no words to describe it. You could feel the energy in the room. It's very overwhelming. The other student and I were so happy just to be there and witness it," Gabriel said. "Once the baby was born, everything was so calm and we all felt so happy."
The mother of three herself, Gabriel first became pregnant soon after high school. She attended junior college throughout her pregnancy and actually gave birth to her daughter one month before graduating.
"I was doing my final in labor and finished on time to graduate in July," she said.
Her advice to other teen mothers considering going back to school, she said, was to never quit on yourself — no matter how difficult it seemed. Because it gets better.
"There's a lot of teen moms that come back to school and it is hard. I'm not going to lie. It is hard but it's well worth it because, in the end, you can show your child -- 'Look what mom did, even though I had you young. I still went on.' Just so you can show them, 'I got to where I am because of you.' You wanted to make a better life for them."
What inspires you?
Definitely my kids -- just because I had my daughter when I was 18. I turned 19 a month later and I just remember family saying "Oh, she messed up her life. She's not going to do anything." I'm the oldest of five cousins. I went on to finish school. I went on to get my associates and now I'm here about to get my license for VN.
What was the hardest part about going back to school?
My children are different ages and my little one, when I started ACC, was 4 months old. That alone was hard in itself, so managing that and then just learning everything -- you don't realize how much you need to learn and all the medications... it's just overwhelming sometimes. But you find little ways and teachers give you their tips and it makes it easier.
Did you ever want to quit?
I would wake up at 4 in the morning every day to study and I just felt like, "That's it. I'm not gonna do this." But I had my husband, other members in the cohort telling me, "Don't worry about it, you got it," and we'd meet up and quiz each other. That really helped.
What was your day like with full-time school and being a full-time mom?
Typically, I would go to sleep around 11, wake up at 4 in the morning and study because I couldn't during the day. My husband got home late, my daughter has soccer so I would stay home with the two and they wouldn't let me study so I had to prioritize when was the best time. And if it meant losing some sleep, then I had to lose some sleep. So I would wake up at 4, study until about 6:30, 7 and then start my day.
How did you hear about American Career College?
Other VNs that I worked with, they all came to ACC and they would tell me of their experience and 'it's so great' and 'you're not going to regret it,' so I just went with that.
You said you previously graduated from junior college. Was going to ACC any different than that experience?
I feel like the teachers, the staff, everybody, was more involved here than over there. You kind of walk in here feeling at home, rather than over there it was just school if that makes any sense.
Where do you want to work as an LVN?
Mental health has always been my interest, just because I used to work for VA outpatient for mental health. I see the struggle there so my heart kind of goes towards that.
Are you excited about your cohort's pinning ceremony?
I just found out I passed the exit exam last Friday. I cried just from thinking about all these obstacles and everything. It's nice to say I made it, even with the added responsibilities of becoming a nurse. I used to work with VN's before, so I know what they do. I'm ready to take that on.