December 2, 2020

Challenge Accepted

Nurse recalls lessons that took her from C-student to college grad.

As a teen, Jai-Ana Baker had never considered becoming a nurse. She knew she wanted to go to college, but she was a C student who hated school and had no idea what she wanted to study. Then her mother heard an ad for RINI on the radio. “Mom said, ‘Apply, apply, apply,’” Baker recalled, so she decided to give it a try. 

Baker found the coursework at RINI very challenging, but focusing her studies on a nursing career motivated her to participate more, and to set goals and try to achieve them. “For some reason, it was like: challenge accepted,” she said. “It changed me as a person.”

Baker also underwent a transformation as a student. She described her previous high school as “You’re in, you’re out. It’s a big classroom.” At RINI, she appreciated the one-on-one attention she received from teachers. “They really got to know you for who you were and knew the type of learner you were,” she said. To her surprise, she became a straight-A student. 

Baker said the environment at RINI encouraged community among students. “They taught us about creating cohorts and working together as a team,” she said. This message was strengthened by her experience studying for and working as a certified nursing assistant (CNA). “I think just putting young people together in that sense, it really helped us mature and want to go out and get a job,” Baker said. 

The summer after receiving her CNA license, Baker turned 17, and she and her peers began working in the Summer Youth Employment Program at Rhode Island Hospital. The experience bonded them, she said, and spurred them to help each other achieve their common goals.

Working as part of a team at RINI informed Baker’s approach to college. “You end up creating nursing cohorts that you grow and learn with throughout your journey in school,” she said. “We were all studying together, so it was challenging, but we were able to get through it together.”

Also helpful were the study strategies instilled by RINI teachers. Baker graduated with 27 college credits, taking college-level classes in anatomy, communications, and psychology, among other subjects. To help her meet the challenge, teachers stayed after school “breaking things down” and answering questions. She remembers anatomy was “very tricky with learning all the different bones and the different parts of the body,” so her teacher had them draw pictures and label them “100 times.” Later, at the University of Rhode Island (URI), Baker said she and an old RINI classmate would laugh about it and say, “Remember Dr. Clancy would make us do this? And then we would find ourselves doing it in our college courses.” 

At URI, Baker also benefited from her high school CNA experience. Not only had the position allowed her to save up for her first car at a time when she saw peers struggling to find jobs, but it showed her the inside of a hospital, giving her a level of confidence in her career choice that many of her classmates lacked. “They’re like, I want to be a nurse, and they never stepped foot in the hospital.” 

As a CNA, Baker had a chance to ask before college, “Can I see myself in this hospital setting as a career for the rest of my life?” The answer emerged from her experiences working with people who were seriously ill. “I like this. I love this,” she realized. “I love being able to make an impact on patients’ lives.” Baker had always planned to attend college, but she wonders if she would have followed through without the drive that came with knowing “this is what I want to do.” 

Baker now works mostly with older patients at The Miriam Hospital, a cardiac care facility in Providence. She said all her efforts “paid off in the end” not only because she has a job she loves, but because her success inspires others, especially her younger sisters who now want to go into nursing. 

Baker credits RINI with putting her on a path to a rewarding future. “I was constantly reaching my goals and becoming successful. I think it really inspired everybody around me,” she said, noting how her sisters believe “if Jai can do it, I can do it.”