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Tiffany J. Hite [View Image] Tiffany J. Hite will graduate Friday with a B.S. in nursing after joining the first cohort of the RN-to-B.S. co-enrollment program, a partnership between a handful of Virginia community colleges and VCU School of Nursing. (Courtesy of Tiffany Hite)

Class of 2021: After three careers, Tiffany J. Hite takes ‘leap of faith’ to accomplish her dream of becoming a nurse

Hite will be one of the first graduates of a co-enrollment program at the VCU School of Nursing designed to help students at partnering community colleges earn their B.S. in nursing faster.

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The past decade has been a journey full of growth for Virginia Commonwealth University student Tiffany J. Hite. In the past 10 years, she’s had three careers, is raising three kids and, as of this week, will have earned three degrees on the way to pursuing her true passion: Helping bring new life into the world as a nurse.

This weekend, Hite will be among the first students to graduate from the VCU School of Nursing’s co-enrollment program. The program gives nursing students in a handful of partner programs an opportunity to earn their B.S. in nursing — and the higher pay and increased career options that often come with it — from VCU faster, starting while they’re still enrolled at their local community college. The first class of students from Rappahannock Community College and Southside Virginia Community College will graduate from VCU this week.

For Hite, the co-enrollment program offered some extra momentum on the path toward her long-term goal — becoming a midwife or nurse practitioner — as she fulfilled a dream that started more than 15 years ago. After earning her associate degree at Southside Virginia Community College and her RN board certification last year, she began working as a nurse.

“I have loved it,” Hite said. “I have found my passion.”

Hite’s interest in nursing began in high school, where she completed a nursing assistant program, and the interest continued into the after-school hours, watching TV shows centered on birth and pregnancy.

“My mom was always like, ‘Why are you watching pregnancy-related shows? Is there something that you need to tell me?’ ” Hite said with a laugh. “But it has always interested me. And I always said when I got older, that is what I wanted to do: I wanted to birth babies.”

But after she graduated high school and enrolled in a collegiate nursing program, she questioned whether nursing was the career she really wanted to pursue and decided to change course. After graduating from Old Dominion University with a B.S. in business administration in 2010, she went into banking. She stuck with it for a while but realized it wasn’t making her happy. She eventually left the field and became a second-grade teacher, taking her nursing school entrance exam and a few prerequisites here and there throughout that time, with the idea of going back to school to finish her nursing degree in the back of her mind.

“Life happened. I would start and I would stop,” Hite said of her plans to go back to school. “One day, I said, ‘You know what, I’m going to do it.’ I went and talked to a counselor, and she said, ‘Well, your (nursing school entrance exam) expires after five years.’ And my five years would have been up that year. So that was my motivation to say, ‘Now is the time.’ I did it and I never looked back.”Tiffany Hite [View Image]Hite has fulfilled a dream that started more than 15 years ago and, through the co-enrollment program with VCU School of Nursing, has been able to accomplish even more, with her eyes on the ultimate goal of becoming a nurse practitioner or midwife. After earning her associate degree at Southside Virginia Community College in 2020, she began working as a labor and delivery nurse at Vidant Health in North Carolina. "I have loved it," Hite said. "I have found my passion." (Courtesy of Tiffany Hite)

She enrolled at Southside Virginia Community College in Brunswick County, where she and her family live. After a few semesters, Hite was offered the chance to join the first cohort of co-enrollment RN to B.S. program students at VCU. At the time, she had two young children and wondered if she’d be able to juggle the coursework.

“I thought, ‘When am I going to have time to fit this in?’ But at the same time I realized, ‘You don’t get this opportunity every day,’” Hite said. “So I figured while the momentum was there, and while I was still fresh in school, I would just keep going and get it done.”

The program would give her the chance to start her B.S. in nursing degree at VCU online while finishing her associate degree at SVCC without having to travel to Richmond.

In Hite’s case, co-enrollment meant she only had 18 months to go from earning her associate degree to finishing her bachelor’s. The flexibility of VCU’s online program, she said, made a huge difference.

“The biggest benefits have been the flexibility and the ease of taking online courses because I have a family, and I’m working full time and, in the middle of COVID-19 I was having to home-school my son as well,” Hite said. “I was able to have time to still spend with my family, still teach my son what needed to be taught and have time for my classes when I needed to get it done. Travel wasn’t a necessity. I didn’t have to worry about, ‘Oh, I have to get up early. I have to be at class. And then I have to leave class and I have to go to work.’ I could fit class in whenever I had that time.”

Since graduating from Southside Virginia Community College in 2020, Hite has been working full time as a labor and delivery nurse at Vidant Health in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina. The need for nurses when she graduated was so high that her initial job offer for late summer 2020 was moved up and so were her board exams. She drove five hours to Charlotte, North Carolina, to take her board certification exam on two days’ notice. She passed and started work in May 2020, just two weeks after graduation.

The past 18 months finishing the RN to B.S. program have been a whirlwind — not just in terms of school or the hustle and bustle of working in health care in a pandemic but in life as well. While finishing her degree and working in labor and delivery, her own family grew as she and her boyfriend, Cedric, welcomed their third child this year. Throughout all the joy and challenges, Hite said, she’s grateful to be back on the career path she first fell in love with almost two decades ago.

I thought, ‘When am I going to have time to fit this in?’ But at the same time I realized, ‘You don’t get this opportunity every day.’Tiffany Hite

“I’ve found my happiness where I pretty much wanted to be all along,” Hite said. “It’s like, when I was banking and teaching, I wouldn’t say I was dreading going to work, but that spark wasn’t there. But now, I feel that spark.”

And, Hite said, her journey toward furthering her dream hasn’t stopped there.

“I have a plan. I want to eventually be a nurse practitioner or midwife in the near future,” she said. “I’m thinking of [the co-enrollment program] as a steppingstone for something bigger because I don’t want to stop here. I want to keep going.”

For others who wonder whether they can finish their degree while balancing working full time, possibly with kids at home, Hite has some advice: “If you ever come across this opportunity, take advantage of it.

“I know sometimes things are scarier than what they appear, but once you get in it, you always make a way. I’d always been scared to take that leap. I think it was more my fear [holding me back] than the actual experience itself. So never be afraid to just take that leap of faith.”

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