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If her nursing school career is any indication, when Nancy Loera, 28, sets her sights on a goal she can’t be stopped.

Despite several major personal crises during her two years at the University of Texas Arlington College of Nursing, Loera recently graduated on time and was the recipient of the Clinical Excellence in Nursing award.

“It was very intense,” she admits. “Sometimes I do not know how I manged to get through nursing school!” Finances and family obligations caused Loera to rethink her original plan to head to medical school fresh from a BS in biology at UTA. “But I still wanted to be in the medical field,” she says. “I wanted to help people.” Nursing school beckoned and she began gathering the necessary credits for her eventual acceptance.

Just before she was to begin her nursing school studies in the summer of 2011, her joy was tempered by a family crisis – her mom had just been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in her late 60s. “It is the hardest thing I have ever had to deal with, and there is nothing we can do,” says Loera. “I feel like I lose her every day. I can either cry every day or try to make her happy, so I try to keep her happy.”

Loera shares caregiving responsibilities with her dad and another sister, so she never could take advantage of studying in a quiet school spot. Instead, she chose to go home to keep the household on as much of an even keel as possible. “At home, I was either studying or taking care of my mom,” she says. And the family was tested even more with the unexpected deaths of Loera’s brother, Americo, at 43 from a heart attack in 2012 and her sister, Inez, from the flu at age 46 one year later.

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Despite the heartbreak, Loera was determined to finish nursing school on time. She missed only two days of nursing school – for her siblings’ funerals. “I just kept thinking, ‘I can’t miss my clinical,’” Loera recalls. But it wasn’t ever easy, especially when her brother died so unexpectedly. “I was really just in survival mode,” she says. “I was very close to him and it was very hard. I just pushed through.”

Loera’s clinicals motivated her and kept her focused. “I just love the clinicals – you are applying everything you have been taught,” she says. With clinicals in everything from nurse management to pediatrics, Loera found her calling in the ER and will begin working in the ER at Baylor Medical Center at Carrollton in June. “I love it,” she says. “You get to see everything. No two days are the same.”

A close support network of her parents, her eight siblings, her friends, and her professors at UTA kept her going as did her pure grit. “I think it is something from my parents,” says Loera. “They always told us how important education is. Education is something no one can take away from you.”

Starting out, Loera knew nursing school would be challenging. “Even as I entered, I didn’t know if I would make it,” she says. “I thought, ‘What if I can’t do this?’ But I am never afraid of a challenge and from the first clinical I knew. I really like doing this.”

With nursing school behind her (although she admits she already misses it), Loera is ready for the next step. “Right now,” she says, “I am excited for the future.”

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Julia Quinn-Szcesuil is a freelance writer based in Bolton, Massachusetts.

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil
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