Sometimes nurses know they are destined for a lifelong nursing career; for other nurses, it’s as if the career chooses them.
That’s how Jonathan Llamas DNP (c), BSN, RN-BC, PHN, found his way to nursing. Knowing the career would be a good fit for his compassionate nature and his innate ability to have empathy for others, Llamas applied for nursing school right out of high school.
“I knew the work was selfless and inspiring,” he says, “but I went into nursing school with some naiveté. I knew I had the qualities to be a successful nurse, but I didn’t understand the amount of hard work and dedication required for me to excel in the heavily science-based coursework.”
Llamas was unprepared and struggled with the demands of the course load. Looking back, Llamas sees how his path started to become rockier, even as he wanted to succeed. He lacked the mindset to focus on his work. “I didn’t commit the time necessary for me to be successful,” he says.
Transferring to community college, Llamas finished his prereq courses, but says his lackluster GPA set him up for a cycle of rejections from other nursing programs. Determined, Llamas pressed on but struggled with setbacks that would have had other students choosing another path.
“Based on my GPA, my community college counselor said, ‘You don’t have what it takes to be a nurse,’” says Llamas. Feeling demoralized by the comment, Llamas still felt that nursing was his calling. He just had to find a way to get there. “I had to prove to myself I could do it,” he says, “and that I could do well under pressure.”
The toll from the rejection was growing though. As a first-generation college student from a supportive Filipino family, Llamas recalls his mother’s upset at all the rejection for him and it struck a nerve.
“I looked in the mirror and thought, ‘How do I want to be remembered? Do I want to be a father who inspires his kid to rise above adversity or fold under pressure?’” Llamas says. “I didn’t want to be the latter. I wanted to make something of myself.”
Determined to succeed, Llamas applied to West Coast University’s nursing program, and they gave him another chance. He didn’t throw it away and graduated in 2013. I learned that if I wanted to be successful, I have to apply myself,” he says. “I carry that now. If you want something, you have to work for what you want. We are all different in terms of the resources we have initially. We are not all starting at the same starting line.”
“Hopefully my story will inspire others,” says Llamas. He wants students to be academically and mentally ready at the outset so they aren’t surprised by the intensity and high expectations of nursing school. “You have to sacrifice to be successful,” he says. “It’s hard, but it’s temporary. Do your research, and know why you want to be a nurse. Have a vision for yourself and your future.”
As Llamas has learned, there is a level of commitment to nursing that is necessary to be an exceptional nurse. “There’s a difference between your passion and your purpose,” he says. Having the inherent ability to be a successful nurse often makes one’s passion for nursing grow stronger, he says. “I understand that nursing requires sacrifice, but the most rewarding thing you can do is provide such incredible care to a patient.”
For Llamas, persistence has paid off. He is set to graduate this spring with his DNP from Loma Linda University and juggles his academic load with a full-time schedule as a psychiatric mental-health nurse. “I am fortunate to have hit this stride in my career,” he says. The advanced degree will help him reach his future goals of influencing change in nursing by providing a different form of influence beyond the bedside. He envisions working as an NP, becoming an educator to help future nurses, and using his platform to help other nurses.
“If you had said to me 10 years ago that I would accomplish this, I would have said you were crazy,” he says. “If I have impacted someone’s life for the better, then I have lived a life worth living. I feel blessed, humbled, and grateful for the opportunities that have come my way.”