Sometimes the best part about working in healthcare is also the worst part.
For Carolina Valls, a West Coast University-Orange County bachelor of science in nursing graduate and registered nurse, it meant expertly advocating for her son AJ’s health after a mysterious illness only to discover her then-9-year-old had a rare brain tumor.
Follow AJ’s Journey
Valls is documenting her son's entire journey on Instagram at @prayers_for_aj and has started educating others on cancer prevention and ways to live healthier on her account @rnmomcologist and her website: rnmomcologist.com.
“Being a nurse was both a curse and a blessing,” she said. “It was a blessing because with my schooling and experience as a nurse I was in the best capacity to be able to care for him. It was a curse because unfortunately, as a nurse, it also meant I knew more than I would have liked to at that moment.”
Doctors at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles were able to remove 95 percent of the baseball-sized tumor, but the remaining 5 percent had infiltrated his brainstem.
Following her son’s emergency surgery, Valls set out to do everything she could to help AJ with his recovery and upcoming chemo and radiation treatments. In that effort, Valls dedicated herself to providing her son with a “healthier, non-toxic” lifestyle to help in his fight against cancer. Soon after, she decided to chronicle their journey and share some of the information she learned along the way.
While she can’t help everyone, Valls said she takes comfort in knowing she’s doing as much as she can — either at work as a nurse or online as the mother of an 11-year-old cancer survivor.
“Every day of your life, no matter what capacity you are as an RN, you truly have the ability to make a difference in someone's life,” she said. “Regardless if it’s physically saving their life, going above and beyond to deliver the best quality care, ensuring their well-being, providing patient education or even simply being a patient advocate, there is always an opportunity to make a difference.”
Tell us about your job at Kaiser Permanente; what you do and how long have you been there?
I have been with Kaiser Permanente for a little over eight years now. It has always been a dream of mine to work with Kaiser and I have been blessed to make a career out of it. I have worked in different departments and capacities within Kaiser Permanente but my current position is working for the nurse advice line. I have been in this current position for four years.
Did WCU prepare you to start working as a new grad?
I think WCU prepared me as best as it could to enter into a field as a new grad. However, I still think the best option is to enter a new grad program in order to receive the optimum training for the position you will be going into.
What you were doing before enrolling at WCU?
I went to American Career College to be a vocational nurse and worked as an LVN for five years before pursuing an LVN-to-BSN bridge program. I initially starting out by working at a community hospital and then entered Kaiser Permanente as an LVN in the dermatology department.
Do you have any advice for new or potential nursing students?
Never ever give up! There will be days that you will want to quit and throw in the towel. Don't let those days get the best of you and take over your dream. Every sacrifice is worth the reward and let me tell you, being a nurse has been one of the most fulfilling roles I’ve had. I would also say to make sure to be assertive, take every opportunity in school to learn to the greatest of your ability and ask questions, lots of questions! In nursing you are constantly learning, it is OK to ask questions. The more you know, the better nurse you will become!
Why did you want to work in healthcare in the first place? Was there a moment in your life or a person that influenced your decision?
I wanted to be a nurse since junior high but it wasn't until I started volunteering in nursing homes when I was in high school that I started to consider it being a career. Once I graduated high school I completed a 16-month externship at St. Mary's Hospital in Long Beach and that solidified my dream of wanting to be a nurse. Helping others was always my drive but to actually see that I could help make someone's day, make them smile, make them feel better was the icing on top.
Knowing what you know now, what would you tell yourself on that first day in class at WCU-OC?
The classes are fast-paced. Make sure to do whatever you can to not fall behind. Take lots of notes in class, stay on top of the reading, join study groups and ask a lot of questions.
Did you ever feel like quitting while in school? If so, what kept you going?
No. Quitting has never been an option. Sure, there were moments that I hated the assignments, that I dreaded having to wake up at the crack of dawn to go to clinical or dreaded completing a daunting 20-plus-page care plan but despite how much I despised those moments, quitting was never an option. I was a single mother, working full time and pursuing my career. I had a dream to accomplish and a son, who every day of my life has been my reason to keep going, I could not let down.