All in the Family

  • Students

After significant urging from her mother, Annabelle Vives, RN, enrolled in the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program at the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work to become a family nurse practitioner. Isabel Vives, RN, had been cautioning her daughter since she was a little girl to get all her degrees before she was old, married and had kids, or she would regret it.

However, when Annabelle informed Isabel that she had secured one of her final required classes for this summer, her mother was annoyed.

“I told her, ‘Do not take Nursing 606 in the morning on Wednesdays!’” Isabel Vives said.

Annabelle admits that her mother did warn her not to take that class, and she ignored it. The issue with the particular class is that Isabel was also signed up for it.

Isabel and Annabelle Vives are current MSN students. Up until this point, they had a friendly rivalry going on at home, comparing grades and assignments. Isabel worried that a mother and daughter taking a class together might not be permitted, but her concern proved to be unfounded. Isabel and Annabelle were both welcomed into the class, free to continue their affable, familial competition.

Pursuing graduate school together

A registered nurse for 30 years, Isabel received her undergraduate nursing degree in the Philippines in 1990, and has been practicing in California since 1993.

“My mother was a midwife,” Isabel explained. “But I became a nurse not because I envisioned myself to become a nurse, it was just because all my friends were in line to enroll themselves to become nurses, so I joined them. But I learned to love it.”

Early on in her career, Isabel had her eye on becoming a nurse practitioner. But taking care of kids, general life commitments and and overcoming cancer delayed her dream. After more than 25 years caring for patients bedside in a Los Angeles County hospital, she decided it was finally time to pursue her master’s degree.

In July 2017, Isabel’s father died, and she questioned the care he had received. “I decided I should get my brain busy with schooling instead of just crying in the corner about his death,” she said.

Isabel had heard good things about the family nurse practitioner program at USC, and decided to jump in. Once accepted, she started encouraging Annabelle, again.

Annabelle, an oncology nurse, loves what she does and had no immediate plans to pursue a graduate degree. But her mother’s persistent urging finally drove Annabelle to apply, and she was thrilled to be accepted into the MSN program to study alongside her mother.

“So far everything that my mom has told me to do has only benefited me,” Annabelle said. “So I thought I might as well give it a try. And, just like usual, I ended up falling in love with the program.”

What she values most about the program is the support from faculty. “I know I can ask for help for anything,” Annabelle said. “They care about our well-being inside and outside of the program, and that’s something I will forever appreciate.”

Annabelle felt the pressure from family to become a nurse, but also witnessed the stability her mother’s work provided and wanted the same for herself. Additionally, there is a cultural component. The family is from the Ilocos region of the Philippines. “We’re called Ilocanos and we’re known to be very hard-working and caring,” Annabelle said. “I think it’s just in our blood to want to help people.”

In addition to pursuing their graduate degrees together, Annabelle and Isabel work at the same Los Angeles County hospital.

“Everybody knows her and she gets special treatment when she comes to my unit, whether I’m there or not,” Isabel said. “She hates that she’s known as ‘Isabel’s daughter,’ but she gets fed by my co-workers and she likes that.”

Annabelle acknowledges that she does feel like she is following in her mother’s footsteps, but it does not bother her because she loves what she does.

“I have my own life at work, she has her own life at work, so it’s not like I’m living in her shadow,” Annabelle said. “It’s not bad.”

What’s next?

Isabel is on course to complete her MSN by August 2020 and Annabelle in May 2021.  Isabel plans to take her board certification exams as soon as possible after that, with a goal to becoming a primary care provider and advocate for patients at a clinic. Her role at the hospital has been caring for patients with lower socio-economic status and she wants to continue to be actively involved in outreach programs.

Annabelle plans to continue working bedside for the next several years as an oncology nurse and certified chemotherapy administrator because she loves working with her patients. Obtaining her MSN and getting licensed as a family nurse practitioner will provide her with options when she decides to start a family, such as working in an outpatient clinical setting as an independent care provider, able to see patients on her own.

“I would still be looking at patients’ regimens, looking at how it’s affecting their body,” Annabelle said. “It's dealing with the same thing, but as a provider rather than their bedside nurse.”

Both Isabel and Annabelle work night shifts in order to continue at their jobs while pursuing their MSN degrees.  Isabel has been working that shift for over 20 years, 12-hours, three days a week. “Annabelle has the luxury of doing part-time — two days, the third day is optional for her,” Isabel teased. “I’m doing more work than she is doing. I am older, but tougher.”

As for their class together, Annabelle was lucky the nursing department had no issue with the double enrollment. If they had insisted on separating them, Annabelle would have been the one that had to drop the class.

“I signed up first!” Isabel said.

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