Dianne Barba’s decision to become a nurse came upon her, suddenly, a little more than two years ago as she lay in a hospital bed the day after undergoing brain surgery.
She had just gotten word that the tumor removed from the frontal lobe of her brain, as doctors had suspected, was benign.
“The machines whirring, the pace of the hospital, the nursed who cared for me, I loved everything. I was in a lot of pain, but I also felt happy, because I didn’t have cancer, and I realized in that moment I would become a nurse,” said Barba, 27, who will earn her B.S. degree this month from Rutgers’ School of Nursing, her second undergraduate degree.
Until that experience, Barba had no desire to enter the nursing profession. “My mother is a nurse, and my sister is a nurse in the Navy,” she said. “But I was never interested. I just didn’t think it was for me.” She majored in early childhood and special education at the University of Scranton and, after graduating in 2011, taught at several preschools in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
On April 2, 2015, after fighting an excruciating headache all day, at home in Elmwood Park that night she had a seizure. “One minute I was on the couch playing on my iPhone. The next, I was in the ER,” said Barba. With her parents by her side and her boyfriend RJ holding her hand, she heard the doctor’s terrifying words: “There’s a mass in your brain.”
During a four-hour operation at St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Paterson, a surgical team removed a “benign mature teratoma” – the size of a lemon – which she was later told may have been growing slowly in her brain from birth.
Barba came home to a grueling recovery. “I didn’t get out of bed for a month. It was hard to walk, to feed myself. I was dizzy, and my head hurt,” she recalled. But during that period she had enough strength to begin investigating nursing schools, and was particularly excited about the Second Degree Baccalaureate Program at Rutgers’ School of Nursing, which one of the nurses in the hospital had told her about.
Deciding to give up teaching, she applied to the Rutgers program in May and that summer enrolled in prerequisite courses in microbiology, chemistry and nutrition online and at Bergen Community College. In November, she found out she’d gotten in.
“I was so excited to be accepted at Rutgers, and by the time I started school in January, I felt totally normal,” Barba said.
Through the 14-month program, she’s gained hands-on skills in clinical rotations at hospitals in New Brunswick, Edison, Perth Amboy and Old Bridge. She’s worked on medical-surgical floors, in pediatrics, the psychiatric ward, the intensive care unit and the mother-baby unit, which is her favorite.
“I love babies and taking care of new mothers. It’s such an amazing time in their lives and I feel honored being able to share it with them,” Barba said.
She also has made great friends. The program is intimate, with a graduating class of about 70. “Each of us is coming to nursing from a different place – psychology, finance, biology, education – and the students are from so many ethnic backgrounds, said Barba, who emigrated with her family from the Philippines to New Jersey as a toddler.
Since March, she’s been working per diem as a nursing assistant at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center. Along with looking forward to graduation, she is busy studying for her NCLEX- RN exam (National Council Licensure Examination), which will allow her to practice as a registered nurse.
And though her dream is to work in a NICU (neonatal intensive care unit), she’ll be happy with whatever the future holds, which sometime during the next two years will include a wedding.
In December, RJ proposed at Rockefeller Center in New York City.
“I feel pretty lucky,” Barba says. “When you get sick, it gives the people around you the chance to show how much they love you. My family has been so supportive, and RJ, too, is amazing. What we went through together is a good test for a marriage.”
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