Commencement Stories: Yehudis Appel, nursing grad dreams of helping others overcome barriers, the way she did

Yehudis Appel graduates this year from Excelsior College with a Bachelor of Science in nursing. Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Appel still lives there now with her parents and four siblings. She explains how much of a challenge school has been throughout her whole life and how she decided to become a nurse through seeing all the strengths in her life instead of the weaknesses. Appel plans on earning her master’s in nursing education to become a nurse educator in the future. Appel will be attending Commencement this July with her father and professor from nursing school. Appel sat down with Excelsior Life to discuss how she focused on all her strengths to overcome any challenges in earning her degree.

Excelsior Life: When did you decide to go back to school? Why did you want to secure a degree?
Appel: When I was in high school I decided that I wanted to do something with my life that was challenging and had a purpose. The job of a nurse is exactly that. A few weeks after graduating high school in June 2009, I attended a community college where I started to take prerequisite classes to a nursing program. In August 2011, I started my nursing journey in nursing school at Phillips Beth Israel School of Nursing. I attended that school from August 2011 through May 2013 where I obtained my associate degree in nursing. After obtaining my associate degree, I studied for the NCLEX-RN and researched which Bachelor of Science (BS) in nursing program to attend. Excelsior College was definitely the number one option for me. I wanted to go back to school for my BS in nursing and secure that degree because it allowed for me to advance my education and for me to research current evidence-based practice that I use today as a nurse. Furthermore, Excelsior College gave me the flexibility to be able to be a student while working, and that was a huge plus for me.

Excelsior Life: What programs and/or courses were most influential to you?
Although I learned a lot and took away lessons that I learned in each course I took at Excelsior College, two courses stood out to me. Death Dying and Bereavement was a course that was very influential to me because I worked mostly with the geriatric population at that time. And I also really enjoyed Holistic Health Care across the Lifespan because it gave me a new way of looking at patients, their families and what we do as nurses for them. This course also taught me how to look at the patient as a whole person and not just their illnesses.

Excelsior Life: Did you face any academic challenges along the way? How did you overcome?
Throughout elementary school, junior high, and high school I would not have called myself an independent learner. I always thought that I had too many barriers to overcome to becoming an independent learner and because of that, I did not always realize all of the opportunities I actually had. In elementary school and junior high, it was difficult for me to understand everything that was taught in class. It was also very hard for me to keep up with the fast pace of learning in a regular mainstream class. Because of my struggles as a student, I was always the student who had to leave the mainstream classroom and go to the resource room for tutoring. Over the years, I had tutors for many subjects and I had a reading comprehension setback as well. The reading comprehension problem was a huge obstacle for me throughout my entire life as I was not able to understand simple grade-appropriate reading material. However, during my high school years, I was in a self-contained class that was inside of a mainstream high school. I went to some of the mainstream classes that involved a lot of reading activities but I had much support for those subjects from my teachers who taught in the self-contained class.
Because of my reading comprehension issues throughout all of those school years, I did not think I had what it takes to become a college student. I thought that if I was to continue my education and go to college I would not understand what I would read in college-level textbooks and would fall behind in my studies without having a self-contained class to back me up. I always had felt that I needed someone to explain things to me and I did not think I could learn independently. I did not think that I would do well in college and I focused on all of my weaknesses instead of all of my strengths.
Ever since I was a little girl I knew that I wanted to be a teacher and I thought that I would not be able to become one because of the learning barriers I thought I had. Besides for being a teacher, I knew that when I grew up I would want to do something that would help others overcome their own barriers and realize all of the opportunities they have.
My decision to become a nurse happened during my senior year in high school. One day I just told myself I would not repeatedly tell myself that I have barriers that would prevent me from going to college, learning independently and pursuing a degree. That was the day that I realized that I wanted to become a nurse; so that I could help other people overcome barriers and help them recognize their strengths and achievements.
After passing the nursing board examination, I applied to the BS in the nursing program at Excelsior College as I decided that I wanted to pursue my nursing education even further. Excelsior courses are based in an online environment and I worked really hard learning independently. I had to read many scholarly articles and textbooks but that is what brought out many barriers for me to overcome as I had difficulties understanding what I was reading. I felt that the articles were written using high vocabulary words and that made what I was reading hard to comprehend. There were times when I had to read the same article 20 times to comprehend what it was saying. There were numerous times that I felt defeated by reading and learning independently but I realized that this was just an obstacle to overcome. With every ounce of strength I had in me, I completed my degree and I could not be more proud of myself.
My achievement in obtaining my BS in nursing from Excelsior College helped me outline my future plans of becoming a nurse educator. Now that I have completed my BS in nursing, I look forward to obtaining my Master of Science in nursing education (MSN-Ed) in the future so that I can teach the subject that I love. The art and science of nursing and teaching others how to overcome their boundaries and recognize positive opportunities of strengthening one’s self.

Excelsior Life: What does having this degree mean to you?
Having this degree means that I have accomplished my goal of earning my degree online while working. It may sound simple, but it is no easy feat. It was quite exhausting to come home from a long hectic day of work and sit down for numerous hours every day and do homework. Having this degree also means that I’m committed to learning, advancement, and implementing evidence based practice into my job as a nurse.

Excelsior Life: Any final thoughts you’d like to emphasize regarding your education at Excelsior College?
A final thought that I would like to emphasize regarding my educational experience at Excelsior College is that it really is all worth it in the end. It is a lot of hard work, and you may feel like quitting, but the reward you get when you are done is far better than all those times you told yourself that you just can’t do it anymore. It is worth the time, effort, and patience.