<b>Upper Valley Career Center nursing alumna realizes her dream</b>

Sanjuanita Benitez of New Bremen has always been a hard worker. A first-generation American, she learned her strong work ethic and determination from her parents, who came to this country, like so many, in search of the American dream. For Sanjuanita that dream has always been to become a nurse.

“I never stepped foot inside a high school,” said Benitez. “I also got married and had children very young, so they were my priority at the time. But as they got older, I was determined to become a nurse -- I just had no idea how I was going to do it.”

GED and so much more

Benitez knew the journey had to begin somewhere, and that it would not be easy. “I worked hard to obtain my GED and started working as a medical assistant. I enjoyed the position, but it wasn’t enough. I wanted to be more involved in direct patient care, and I wanted more responsibility,” she said.

“I started looking more in depth into the healthcare field, to figure out a next step,” recalled Benitez. “At the time, I had no idea there were so many different options in the field of nursing. “

After careful research she enrolled in a program, but life got in the way. “I had to drop out – I was devastated, but it was just too much for me at that time in my life,” said Benitez.

Another door opens

Life as a working mother kept Benitez busy, however her dream of becoming a nurse continued. A mentor and close friend told her about the Upper Valley Career Center Adult Division Practical Nursing Program, a program that offers over 400 hours of hands-on lab and clinical experience and provides students with the opportunity to train for a new career in less than one year.

The idea of an 11-month nursing program that gave her hands-on training was very appealing to Benitez. With a new boost of confidence and determination, she applied, was accepted, and began the program at the Piqua campus in August of 2014.

“The school and instructors at Upper Valley Career Center were amazing. This time, it felt right. I knew I was exactly where I was supposed to be,” said Benitez.

Gaining patient care experience

About halfway through the Upper Valley Career Center Practical Nursing Program, students who have satisfied course requirements are eligible to take the State Tested Nurse Aide (STNA) certification exam. Benitez's instructor suggested obtaining this additional certification so that she could gain more experience in the field.

That’s exactly what Benitez did. As an STNA and nursing student, she was hired to work with residents at Ohio Living Dorothy Love, a long-term care nursing facility.

“Sanjuanita was in her third quarter of the Upper Valley Career Center’s Practical Nursing Program when she joined us,” said Nyky Brewer, Director of Nursing at Ohio Living Dorothy Love. “Their program gave her a variety of learning opportunities that assisted in the development of her knowledge base.”

A dream realized

After years of determination and hard work, Benitez graduated from the Upper Valley Career Center Practical Nursing Program in July of 2015 and passed the state licensure exam. She continued employment with Dorothy Love, but now in a full-time position and as a licensed practical nurse. “I enjoy the direct patient care and increased responsibility. I have accomplished my goal -- I am finally a nurse,” said Benitez.

“Upper Valley Career Center has helped to fill a need at Ohio Living Dorothy Love by providing the facility with a well-trained, caring, professional nurse in Sanjuanita,” says Brewer. “They ensured she had hands-on clinical experience that gave her the ability to feel more confident in her skills.”

A mutually beneficial partnership

Many healthcare facilities partner with Upper Valley Career Center as a clinical site throughout the nursing curriculum. "Our strong collaboration with local clinical sites provide real-world training experiences and exposure to a variety of possible pathways for our students," says Lori Ludwig, Health Sciences Director at Upper Valley Career Center Adult Division.

Partnering with Upper Valley Career Center as a clinical site has given Ohio Living Dorothy Love an outstanding relationship with the school. “Nurses that have been trained through Upper Valley Career Center’s Practical Nursing Program have proven to be knowledgeable and professional,” said Brewer. “We employ numerous LPNs to fill a variety of positions. As a nurse, you’ll always have the opportunity learn new skills and make a difference every day by helping others.”

Looking back, Benitez realizes that it’s all about your perspective.

“I thought I had failed when the door closed on previous training opportunities, but in reality, a door to something greater was opening.”

Sanjuanita Benitez lives out her dream every day working as an LPN. Her words of advice for others, “Never give up – take one day at a time, enjoy every accomplishment, and with determination you will reach your goals.”

Ludwig agrees, “Sanjuanita’s strong will and determination to make a difference in the lives of others changed her life-long dream into a reality. Upper Valley Career Center is proud to have been a part of that process.”

Click here to learn more about the Practical Nursing Program, the Aspire program (GED/high school equivalency), and other educational opportunities available through Upper Valley Career Center Adult Division.