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A Chance Encounter Inspires a Career in Care

by Amy Unger Jul 18, 2023
Sheyla Martinez

Who was the woman in the blue scrubs? Sheyla Martinez ’22 never learned her name, but she did know her profession: registered nurse.

Her encounter with that woman in a hospital emergency room in Massachusetts several years ago proved to be a pivotal moment in a very personal journey that brought her to the DeSales University campus and gave her the courage to choreograph her own destiny. “That nurse changed my life,” Martinez says.

Even before she joined the DeSales community in Center Valley, Martinez knew what it was like to be a long way from home. She was 17 years old when her parents told her they were moving the family from their native Dominican Republic to the United States. Leaving the comforts of familiar surroundings and friends would be daunting to most young people, and Martinez was no different; she says she didn’t know what to expect: “It’s a different country, different culture, different language.”

Martinez and her family settled in Lawrence, Massachusetts, where she got a job at McDonald’s and was tasked with doing everything from taking orders to cleaning bathrooms. She knew she didn’t want to work in fast food forever, but she wasn’t sure what her next move should be. In the Dominican Republic, she had entertained the notion of working in the health care industry, but she didn’t know how to navigate the system of higher education in the United States. She began taking classes at a nearby community college to get acclimated. Then, she encountered the woman in blue scrubs.

When Martinez’s grandfather wasn’t feeling well, her family asked her—the only one among them who spoke English—to accompany him to the emergency room. It was Martinez’s first time in an American hospital. She immediately took notice of one of the employees—that woman in blue. 

“I saw how caring she was with my grandpa,” Martinez says. “She was making sure he was comfortable. She was doing IV lines, giving him medications, explaining everything.” She noted that the woman’s nametag included the letters “RN.” A quick Google search informed her that she was dealing with a registered nurse. “That was when I decided, that was what I wanted to do,” Martinez says.

In the meantime, Martinez completed a phlebotomist and EKG technician program and got a job at Lawrence General Hospital in Massachusetts. She began applying to nursing schools when a friend suggested she look at DeSales University. Martinez’s gut reaction? No thanks. “It was too far from my family,” Martinez says. “I would have to leave them and my job.” 

She applied, anyway, and when she learned she had been accepted to begin classes in the fall of 2019, she had a decision to make. She prayed on it and went to church. “I always say that one key to success in life is putting God first in everything you do,” Martinez says. “I asked, ‘Please God, if this is for me, let me do it. If not, take it out of the way.’” 

She felt a sense of peace when a woman at church reminded her that God would always have her back. And so, Martinez decided to take a chance.

“When I came to campus for the first time, I felt like, this is the right place. It gave me so much peace.”

 Sheyla Martinez ’22

Even so, Martinez initially struggled to adapt to the rigors of her course load. She tried to hold down a part-time job but had to give it up when she became overwhelmed. And, as expected, the distance from her family weighed on her; she was worried about letting down everyone who was rooting for her back at home, especially her parents, who were providing her with whatever financial assistance they could manage. 

Angelica Silva, Ph.D., associate professor of Spanish language and literature, was an instructor as well as an adviser to Martinez. She says she had a sense that Martinez was grappling with a challenging adjustment period. “It was difficult for her to be away, but it was also motivation for her that all the sacrifice was going to be worth it at some point,” says Silva.

And Martinez, she says, was always willing to go the extra mile on campus, offering to tutor students on her own time without getting any extra credit in return. Martinez, who minored in Spanish, also was instrumental in keeping the Spanish Club going during the COVID-19 pandemic. “She’s very compassionate and she’s always willing to help,” Silva says.

Martinez credits her faith, the DeSales community, and knowing when to ask for help with getting her through that initial rough patch. Her perseverance paid off this past spring when she earned her Bachelor of Science in nursing. But that wouldn’t be the end of her DeSales story. 

From the beginning, Martinez had planned to move back to Massachusetts as soon as her studies were complete. But she surprised her family—and perhaps even herself—when she decided to stick around to pursue her doctorate as a family nurse practitioner. She began taking classes in the fall while working for Lehigh Valley Health Network’s emergency department. 

Silva says Martinez’s story is a success story that needs to be celebrated. “I want students to see it’s possible to make it, even if you start from zero,” she says. Her final thought on her former student: “I’m just glad I met her.” 

Chances are, now that Martinez is the one wearing the scrubs and RN nametag in the ER, others who cross paths with her in their hour of need will be thinking the same thing.