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USCA nursing students receive pins before entering careers of caring

May 9, 2019

Brianna Valvano knows exactly what she’ll say to her first patient on her first day as a registered nurse.

Valvano is one of 29 USC Aiken nursing students who received their pins in front of their families and friends Wednesday afternoon during a ceremony in the Etherredge Center.

“Being able to say, ‘Hi, I’m gong to be your nurse today’ is something that is going to be an adjustment because I’ve worked as a tech for so long, but now I’m going to have to shift over to saying nurse,” Valvano said. “I’m just super excited and very proud to be able to call myself a nurse.”

Valvano, who received the Outstanding Generic Nursing Student award for spring 2019, originally planned to become a doctor.

“I always loved medicine,” she said after the ceremony. “I thought I wanted to be a doctor but quickly changed my mind. I really like the hands-on care that nurses are able to give. That was the difference for me.”

Valvano accepted a position as a cardiovascular ICU nurse at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. Her ultimate goal is to become a nurse anesthetist.

Like Valvano, Belmar Garcia-Lopez originally planned a different career path: chemical engineering.

“I love math and science and chemistry, but I realized I loved people so much. I want to make an direct impact on people’s lives. That’s when I realized what I really wanted to do was become a nurse,” Garcia-Lopez said. “You still need all the science and all the knowledge, but you get to make a difference in people’s lives. You get to care directly, and that’s what I love about nursing.”

Garcia-Lopez’s classmates voted and chose her to receive the Spirit of Caring Award.

“It was a surprise. I’m so honored that my friends that I love so much think of me that way,” Garcia-Lopez said. “I think that as nursing students we should show compassion and caring toward everyone, and I think I tried to do that with all my friends. Of course, I didn’t do it thinking I’d get the award. You just want to foster that love and compassion toward your classmates. I think someone noticed it.”

Garcia-Lopez’s mother, father, sister and mother-in-law traveled from Puerto Rico to be part of the pinning ceremony and commencement Wednesday night.

“I feel very loved and very blessed today,” she said.

But Garcia-Lopez will be staying in Aiken. She’s accepted a position in the intensive care unit at Aiken Regional Medical Centers.

The nursing students chose Dr. Katie Chargualaf to receive the Lamp of Learning Award. Chargualaf, who started at USCA in January 2018, taught the leadership class, the capstone course for nursing students. She specializes in leadership and adult medical nursing and does transplant research.

“She’s quite a scholar,” said Dr. Thayer McGahee, the dean of USCA’s School of Nursing.

McGahee described the 2019 nursing class as “very close, very special.”

“Every class that graduates you think there is never a class like this – they’re the most special – and it continues. This is a really special class,” she said. “The students have persevered and worked so hard. They are really unique blend of strengths, and they all meshed so well together. I think they just love each other and work together well and support each other.”

Almost all of the students already have accepted positions. Many will work in hospitals in Aiken, Augusta and Columbia, but some will be relocating to Atlanta, Georgia; Houston, Texas; Fairbanks, Alaska and Massachusetts.