Photo courtesy of Ramon Neal by Jama Parker Photography
Ramon Neal describes his decision to pursue a nursing career as answering a calling. That’s not unusual, but the timing of the call was.
Following a 10-year career in the Army, Neal was working information technology security in corporate America. The money was good, as were the perks, but something was missing.
“You have to listen to your heart. You have to be passionate,” he said, adding everything he had done in his previous careers was all about passion. “Sometimes the passion changes. Just like a tree grows with the time and seasons, we all grow with the time and seasons.”
For him, it was time for a change.
“I could not get the word ‘nursing’ out of my head. It’s truly a calling,” he said.
So he attended Thomas Nelson from summer 2018 until spring 2019, taking six classes necessary for acceptance into the nursing program at George Washington University. He recently graduated from GW with a bachelor’s degree in nursing, and is headed to Houston to work in neonatal intensive care, and labor and delivery.
Neal, a product of Phoebus High School, had no background in nursing before attending Thomas Nelson. Learning of the high mortality and morbidity rates of Black and Latino women in maternity care helped him narrow is field of study.
“It’s extremely high,” he said. “I want to be a part of the positive change.”
After observing births while at GW, he knew he was in the right field.
“This most certainly is where I can say that it is a privilege to be able to provide care to our most precious gifts of life, and was my source of happiness,” he said.
His first class at Thomas Nelson, developmental psychology with Dr. Linda Dunn, was key to his success. Passing the class boosted his confidence.
“That gave me a boost of confidence that with hard work and commitment, I was going to get through the next five classes,” he said. “She made those classes engaging and fun to be in, (yet) still a challenge and pushing students.”
Dunn, who had Neal in two classes, remembers him well.
“He was extremely organized and hardworking, did all homework and exams in an above-average level,” she said.
However, it was more than that. He was an active participant in class. He took every lecture and assignment seriously, he said, because he knew they would be the foundation for his new career. He also met with Dunn a number of times to discuss prospective nursing schools/programs, and application materials.
“He had an extensive spreadsheet with schools, including what was required in order of what he wanted in a nursing school,” Dunn said. “Ramon Neal was a very dedicated and focused student.”
He wrote a thank-you note to the Thomas Nelson Veterans Affairs office recently stating, in part, “My previous professional experiences as an Army officer for over 10 years reminded me to reach out to those who have been instrumental in my career.” Before his stint in the Army, he earned a bachelor’s degree from Hampton University in 2006. Even though he had previous college experience, he still needed guidance with the transition at Thomas Nelson.
“There are some sharp folks in the Veterans Student Services office, as well as the veteran student body,” he said.
He has advice for other military personnel transitioning to college.
“If you are a student who is a veteran using your veteran benefits, Thomas Nelson is proof that you can go from TNCC and successfully transition to any top-tier four-year program,” he said. “It is my hope that my military transition as a returning student at Thomas Nelson Community College is a strong example of what hardworking professors do every day to shape the lives in the Hampton Roads/Tidewater Area.”
A number of professors helped him along the way, specifically Dunn, Shaheem Abrahams (head of biology), Sherry Vaughan (STEM instructor), and Kim Zahn (biology professor).
“All of my PowerPoints, study guide outlines, and assignments are still saved on my laptop because that's how much your academic professionalism still means to me today,” he wrote.
Another motivation for writing the note was to be an inspiration for the next generation of students. That spirit didn’t surprise his former professors.
“He took a lot of the younger students under his wing, they formed study groups,” Zahn said. “He was kind of the leader of that. He made sure anybody that wanted to be a part of that study group was welcome.”
While Zahn said Neal wanted to be successful, he wanted the same for others, as well.
“If he could help them do that, he was very willing to do so,” she said.
Neal also sent along some graduation pictures from George Washington. Dunn showed one to her developmental psychology class this summer, “to let them know that they too can be a success.”
His graduation photos, and what they signify, have special meaning to him, too. They remind him of his success, and the Thomas Nelson professors who helped him along the way.
“Thank you so much,” he said. “My joyful moments as I reflect back over the course of three years first started in 2018, when I changed careers. Dr. Dunn, professors Vaughan, Zahn, and Abrahams, because of you, I am able to share this proud moment.”