A single mother of three, Carolina Benitez was motivated to return to school to build a better life for herself and her young family. A career in nursing seemed like a natural progression towards achieving her goals. “I lived very close to Middlesex College and would often pass the school on my morning walks,” says Benitez. “I admired their campus, and learned they had a sought-after nursing program.”
Located in Edison, New Jersey, Middlesex College has awarded Health Technologies scholarships funded by Johnson & Johnson Foundation to more than 1100 students pursuing their personal and professional goals. Established in 2000 in partnership with Middlesex College via the Middlesex College Foundation, the scholarship provides tuition assistance and other resources to help students like Benitez access often out-of-reach career opportunities in the health technologies field, primarily nursing.
While enrolled in the nursing program, Benitez excelled in her studies and was elected as the secretary of the program's honor society. She graduated from Middlesex College in May this year, and is now completing her Bachelor of Science in Nursing Degree at Rutgers University. She also begins her residency in September as a registered nurse on the cardiac floor at Trinitas Regional Medical Center, a member institution of Robert Wood Johnson Barnabas Health, the largest academic health system in the state of New Jersey.
The medical center serves a large immigrant demographic consisting of patients who are often unable to afford access to healthcare and can be hard to reach, she explains. Having received a high-quality education, Benitez and other graduates from the Middlesex College Nursing Program are contributing to a pipeline of diverse health workers delivering healthcare in minority communities in New Jersey. “Many of the patients I cared for during my clinical looked like me,” she says. "Many were Hispanic immigrants, who greeted me with big smiles and asked me plenty of questions on my background. They explained they were grateful to have a nurse who looked like one of their family members, care for them.”
The education she received at Middlesex College equipped Benitez with the knowledge, patience, compassion, and empathy needed to relate to patients and build trust. “Empathy is what drives strong patient advocacy,” she says. "Patients and their families may be unaware of the nurse’s active role in patient advocacy. Their nurse collaborates with other healthcare team members on behalf of the patient’s best interests.”
Completing the nursing program has also put her in a unique position to carry out her passion for educating patients, helping them to better understand diagnoses and the role they play in managing their own health, and encouraging them to make informed health choices. “Once a patient has a diagnosis, education begins,” says Benitez. “Patient education is tailored to the individual, with communication and delivery as the main key—the goal being the patient can verbalize their education in their own words.”
She recalls an incident during her clinical where a patient with cellulitis was unable to explain his condition. She was able to help him understand his diagnosis and the reason he was receiving treatment, she says. “Often, patients do not understand the ‘why’ behind something. I always make a point of going back to that because it promotes compliance with self-care. I approach education in this way in the hope that patients will be able to share the information they learn in hospital with their family and communities when they go home.”
Benitez’s biggest dream for her professional career is to take up a teaching position where she can impart her knowledge, skills, and expertise with other aspiring nurses—a passion, she says, instilled by the staff in the Middlesex College Nursing Program. “My nursing educators had a profound impact on my completion of the program. They offered me academic and emotional support. They wanted to see me succeed and that encouragement has inspired me to want to pursue teaching in nursing.”
Benitez thanks the Johnson & Johnson Foundation for supporting her on her nursing journey. “I poured every ounce of myself into juggling my family and studies, volunteering at my kids’ school and completing additional schoolwork for the nursing honors program,” she says. “Receiving the scholarship was recognition for all the hours I dedicated to my studies after tucking my children into bed for the night.”
“Nursing school was hard; it is a goal you must genuinely want to complete,” she continues. “There were days where I felt defeated and allowed doubt to enter my thoughts. Receiving the scholarship reinforced that someone else believed in me, and I needed to believe in myself. I can and will accomplish all goals I set, with the belief that time is made, not found, for the things you desire.”