"I want to return to PCCC as a nursing professor. I am very grateful and want to return back to give back."

Nursing Grad Puts the Care in CAREer

Melissa Valverde, RN came to PCCC as a career changer, but the part of her prior and current careers that didn’t change is the care part. Formerly a social worker, Melissa decided that her true path in life was to be a nurse, so she enrolled at PCCC to pursue that goal.

Melissa completed her AAS Degree in Nursing last December and is already employed as a full-time registered nurse at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Paterson. At last January’s traditional nurse pinning ceremony, Melissa received the Nurse Education Service Award, given by the nursing faculty to a graduating student for the “quantity and quality of contributions to the nursing program, the College, the community, and peers.”

Melissa received the Nurse Education Service Award for her outstanding contributions to the program and community

“I felt great winning that award,” said Melissa. “I was a little surprised, but also glad that I stood out.” She also delivered the graduating student address at the ceremony, giving a heartfelt speech, thanking faculty and family for their support and congratulating her fellow grads for successfully completing their “remarkable odyssey” through the nursing program.

A first-generation college graduate, Melissa grew up and attended schools in Paterson. In 2012, she earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology from William Paterson University and began her first career as a social worker.

Melissa delivered the graduate address at the ceremony

“I mostly gave hands-on care to older disabled patients,” she said, “assisting them with their day-to-day needs, as well as helping them navigate their benefits information.” Melissa enjoyed the work but took a break to raise her two young children.

When ready to resume working, Melissa decided to change careers. “My main motivation was my brother,” she explained. “He has spina bifida and has been in and out of hospitals all his life. I saw how the nurses gave him a lot of care and empathy. I wanted to become one of those nurses and touch people in a way that changes them.”

As an adult student and career changer, Melissa appreciated the support she received at PCCC. “The advisors were very hands-on and super helpful when I needed direction or tutoring.”

In her first semester of nursing studies, Melissa discovered that everything the nursing professors told new students about the challenges and hard work of the program proved true. She worried that she wouldn’t make it. But she remembered the professors also said success in the program was do-able.

“I am so grateful to Professor (Heather) Griffith and Professor (Joyet) Belcher,” she said. “They told me that I just needed to buckle down and remember why I was doing this. They made me feel I could get through, and I did.”

More encouragement came from the tight-knit community of the nursing students. “You make really close friends in the nursing department. You need that support, and they know what you’re going through. It’s like a family,” said Melissa.

Attending PCCC full-time, working, and caring for her children, Melissa admitted that time management was difficult. “I studied a lot at night, but I also had support from my mom. She took care of the kids while I studied for hours after work.”

Melissa was pinned by her mom, Maria, at the January 2024 Nurse Pinning Ceremony

Currently, Melissa is a general surgery nurse at St. Joseph’s, the hospital where she did her clinical training as a student. She likes the cultural diversity at the hospital and is delighted that a number of her PCCC nursing classmates are now her colleagues at St. Joseph’s. “The work is very hands-on and fulfilling, especially to see patients happy, doing better, and having trust in you, their nurse.”

Melissa is also back in college again at William Paterson University where she is enrolled in a dual bachelor’s/master’s degree nursing program; she hopes to one day earn a doctoral degree.

Now living the career she was meant for, Melissa is looking to give back and be an example to the next generation of nurses. She has already inspired her own children. “They watch me study, and they’ve seen me stop to help when people need assistance.” Her daughter, 6, wants to be a nurse, too, and her 7-year-old son is thinking of being a doctor, but maybe a veterinarian.

By the time they are ready for college, Melissa may already have achieved her next goal. “I want to return to PCCC as a nursing professor, someday. I am very grateful and want to return back to give back.”