So proud to be an RN

Most nurses are happy and proud when they hear that they have passed their N-CLEX exam. Ebonee Rice (34) fell to her knees and sobbed, “I made it!” The road to becoming a registered nurse was long and hard for this single mother of seven children.

“I wouldn’t be here today, if it weren’t for my faith in Jesus Christ and help from the professors and counselors at Georgia Perimeter College. They gave me another chance to succeed,” said Rice. She graduated from Georgia Perimeter College in May 2013, and passed her N-CLEX soon after.

Her dream of a health care career began much earlier. Despite having a child at 16, Rice graduated from her high school in Buffalo, New York near the top of her class and received several scholarships. She enrolled in Howard University in the pre-med track, intending to be a doctor.

When her mother was diagnosed with lung cancer, Rice dropped out of college to become her caregiver. “The hospice nurses who came to help were so compassionate and gave me a different view of nursing. I knew that was what I wanted to do,” she said.

After her mom’s death, Rice moved her family to Atlanta and enrolled in a medical assisting program at DeKalb Technical College (now Georgia Piedmont Technical College) and worked at a doctor’s office. She applied to GPC’s nursing program in 2010.

While in school her fiancé had a stroke and she added caregiver to her mom, worker and student roles. The stresses caused her to fail her medical surgical course by two points, so that she didn’t graduate.

“I was blessed to have very motivating instructors who encouraged me to reapply,” said Rice. She returned to the program in 2012, repeated her courses and graduated with a B average.

Although she had a Pell grant, she struggled to provide for her children during that period. “For one month, we were homeless and lived out of my old Ford Expedition. The shelters were full and they said my family was too large,” she said. “My older girls took care of the younger ones when I had to do clinical rotations,” she said. “I knew I had come too far to drop out of school. I went full-force with tunnel vision to finish.”

“Determination is definitely a word I think about when I think about Ebonee,” said Susan Buchholz, retired GPC nursing professor and one of Rice’s instructors. “She never used her family stressors, or the fact that she had seven kids, as an excuse not to continue. She was determined to finish this degree and become a nurse.”

Buchholz was a constant supporter and role model. “When I would call discouraged, she would break out the pompoms and tell me I was smart and that I could do it,” said Rice.

A church helped her moved into an apartment. She applied for Medicaid and food stamps. At one low point, she admitted to a classmate that there was no food in the house. The woman and her children came the next day with bags of groceries.

“I kept telling my kids that the sacrifices would pay off, that things would get better, and they have,” she said. “My kids all stood up and cheered at graduation. They saw me win the Psychiatric Nursing Award. It makes them feel good now to tell people that their mom is a nurse.”

She’s proud of all of them, ages 17, 15, 12, 11, 10, 5 and 2. Her oldest daughter just graduated from high school, and all her other school-age children are good students.

After passing her boards, Rice worked as an emergency department nurse at Grady Memorial Hospital. She is now an adult public health nurse with the DeKalb County Board of Health, and working on her BSN from the University of Cincinnati. The family lives in a rented four-bedroom home and Rice hopes to buy a home next year.

She believes that all her struggles have made her a stronger and better person, mom and nurse. “I always cared about people, but now I realize that we are all human and that you never know what someone might be going through. I just want to encourage others and to help my patients,” she said. “And I love being a nurse. I wear my RN pin proudly.”