Defying all odds: A journey to nursing school

The Newman University Nursing Program has earned a reputation for itself over the years, and that’s not a bad thing.

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Luisa Montalvo Marcena

With first-time licensure exam pass rates consistently above 90 percent, a direct admit option for high school seniors and job placement rates ranging from 98-100 percent within three months of graduation, ours has become known as one of the top programs in Kansas.

As a high school student, you may already be planning your future, and if you’re considering nursing, the steps toward a degree seem pretty predictable: get your high school diploma, pick a school, finish your prerequisites and get into nursing school. Sounds easy enough, right? What if it wasn’t?

Luisa Montalvo Marcena dreamed of becoming a doctor. She had recently graduated high school and received scholarship offers from prestigious medical schools in her home country of El Salvador. But after living in El Salvador her whole life Luisa, her mother Marta, and her younger brother Ismael decided to come to the United States in 2007, with the help of her mother’s family already living in Wichita. Upon arrival, she sought to attend college, but knowing no English was told she’d need to repeat high school, learn English and graduate again. Luisa was crushed– but her dream of a career in the medical field would not be.

Determined to further her education (sooner rather than later), Luisa opted to take the High School Equivalency Test (HiSET). After only one year of teaching herself to read, write and speak English while studying for the exam, she passed! Luisa graduated in 2009, and it was time to once again consider college.

“Someone from Newman University came to my school to speak with everyone about the nursing program,” she recalls. “I didn’t take it seriously at first. I didn’t think I could afford a private school.”

Luisa began to rethink her plans to become a doctor. Unlike in El Salvador, becoming
a doctor in the U.S. took many, many years of schooling, and she was ready for a career now. She had never considered becoming a nurse, but it seemed like more of a hands-on medical career. The speaker explained how students at Newman experienced a low student-to-teacher ratio, attended small classes and participated in a variety of clinical opportunities in hospitals and professional facilities around the Wichita community. She also got to see her mother act as a nurse for her grandmother, who suffers from dementia. Luisa made a decision, set her new path, and got to work.

While she longed to attend Newman, Luisa decided to start her college career at a local community college and after earning her Associate’s Degree, she applied to the Newman nursing program.

“I thought, there’s no way I’m getting into the nursing program,” remembers Luisa. “I know how good it is, and I didn’t think I had a chance, but here I am graduating.”

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Luisa Montalvo Marcena and her mother, Marta.

Yes, you heard right. Luisa graduated from the prestigious Newman nursing program in December, and looking back, she’s thankful for her experiences that will allow her to excel in the medical field.

“The nursing faculty members are all
so wonderful,” she says, “but Professor Melissa Romaneschi was probably my favorite. Her class on critical care was very challenging, and I was intimidated by the ICU at first. Professor Romaneschi taught critical care in a way that made me feel more comfortable and confident treating patients in the ICU, and now that’s where I really want to work.”

Luisa has now been offered a position in the Medical Intensive Care Unit (MICU) at Via Christi Hospital St. Francis in Wichita, but says her dream is to find a job in a Cardiac Intensive Care Unit (CICU).

“Nursing students [at Newman] complete a rigorous program of study,” explains Director of Nursing Teresa Vetter. “Luisa completed this program demonstrating she will be a quality, caring professional nurse.”

What does the future hold for Luisa? Recently married to her husband, Geraldo, she’s now planning a return to El Salvador to visit family and do a little surfing.
Her brother, Ismael, now 20, studying aerospace engineering at Wichita State University, will be joining her. For the time being, she's focused on achieving another goal, seven years in the making.

“When I came to the U.S., they told me I had to wait six years before I could become a citizen,” Luisa recalls. “This February, I hope to take and pass the test and finally become a U.S. citizen.”

She also plans to continue her education by gaining a few years of experience in the ICU atmosphere before eventually returning to Newman University for her graduate degree to become a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA).

As a Kansas resident and future U.S. citizen, Luisa truly embodies the state motto, “Ad astra per aspera” – To the stars through difficulty.

Interested in Nursing?

Learn more about the Newman University Nursing program.

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