Degree Instead of Retirement

Nikitia HardwickNiki Hardwick could have retired for good after serving 31 years as an Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN) and Registered Nurse (RN) in the Bay Area. She has been a supervising nurse, raised her children, and cared for her mom in the last years of her mom’s life; she could have just taken it easy.

But the Touro University California (TUC) alumna didn’t see it that way. 

The youngest of four children, Hardwick had a grandmother who was a nursing assistant at a children’s hospital and a sister who encouraged Hardwick to be an RN. That same sister signed Hardwick up for testing and admission into the City College of San Francisco’s LVN program. Twelve months later at the age of 19, Hardwick started her career in nursing. 

The initial goal was to get her LVN and then go back for her RN, but as a 19-year-old with a pretty decent salary, it didn’t seem necessary at the time. 

But after becoming a single mother of two, Hardwick realized it was essential that she return to school to fulfill her dreams of getting her RN. It took her seven years to do so. Hardwick would work 12-hour night shifts on weekends at San Francisco General Hospital (SFGH) and attend day classes during the week. In 1999, she completed her Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) and became an RN. 

She continued to work at SFGH after she married and moved to Solano County. Hardwick shared that her life responsibilities, primarily caring for her mother, in combination with a four-hour commute led to her retiring from SFGH in 2015.

One could stop there. She checked the RN box off her list, and in 2017 went back to work to become the supervising nurse at Solano County Family Health Services, where she manages a large team, conducts evaluations, and keeps on top of medications and supplies. The thought of continuing her education was out of sight, and she didn’t think she could do it because of other life demands.

It wasn’t until a TUC faculty member, Margaret Pay, Assistant Professor at TUC’s School of Nursing, nudged her that she gave it thought. With the kids off at college and caregiver duties gone, Hardwick realized it was time to pursue her career.

Hardwick started her 16-month program at TUC’s ADN to MSN program in 2019. 

“I don’t know any program where you can jump from Associates to Masters,” Hardwick said. “To be able to get your master’s, sit for the Clinical Nurse Leader exam, and get your Public Health Nursing certification all in the same program is an amazing thing.”

While juggling her day position at the clinic, Hardwick balanced her schedule by attending evening and weekend classes. It was a busy lifestyle for those months, but it was made a bit easier because of her positive experience at Touro.

“I was successful because of my desire and determination, but also because of the major support of faculty,” she said. “If I emailed my advisor, they would get back to me at any time, even with a call. If I was running out of gas, they’d pump me up. I don’t feel like that’s the norm in most grad schools. You get so much more out of your education here.”

As we all know, the 2020 global outbreak of covid-19 made us all pivot in our work, school, and home lives. And it made a huge impact on Hardwick educationally. 

She chose Touro because she wanted in-person learning, as she thought she wouldn’t do well in an online program. 

“When classes went virtual, it was a culture shock, and a big learning curve,” Hardwick says, but boasts that the faculty did a great job adjusting. She was also able to fulfill her final clinical project at a shelter across the street from where she worked.

Now post-graduation, Hardwick is looking forward to being back with her staff full time starting in March. She hadn't been as accessible to her staff as she likes to be and is eager to lead them, now with a new degree and more experience. 

As for future chapters of Niki’s story, she looks forward to a possible career as a nursing instructor. “[Nursing] is all I’ve ever done and I have a wealth of experience in a variety of areas.

Clinical practices change over time as evidence shows us better ways to do things, but I cling to the words of Maya Angelou which says, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” 

“There have been many clinical advancements since I entered the field of nursing in 1984, but the one thing that should remain a constant is our passion, dedication, and commitment to caring for others,” Hardwick states.  “I wanted my Master’s because I’m an innate teacher; I even teach bible study at church. I like to teach and empower people.”