It’s one thing to be called a natural-born leader. It’s quite another to live it.
Just ask Carlos Ramirez, who as a young man, left Mexicali, Mexico, and crossed into the United States with his parents and three siblings looking for a “better life.” They wound up living in a one-bedroom apartment where he and his siblings slept on the floor while his parents claimed the only bed. It seemed less than ideal to the 15-year-old who had left a big city where his parents worked in the medical field.
“I was very excited to come to live in California … but it was frustrating because I wanted to have a big house like other friends did,” he says of his early days in the U.S.
Even as a teenager, Ramirez understood the sacrifices his parents made to bring their family just 20 minutes across the border. They left their careers behind—his father a physician, his mother a social worker—for their children.
“I knew I had to study hard to improve my life and help my family,” he says.
His family came to live in a small rural town in California’s hot Imperial Valley desert, where his parents picked and packed produce for a living.
Success didn’t come because of location, though. Ramirez, now a naturalized citizen, says it was due to education.
“The degrees I received have helped me immensely in my professional career as a nurse leader, manager, director and as a nursing instructor,” says Ramirez.
“I wasn’t learning enough,” he says.
Refusing to settle, as other kids in those classes did, he asked his guidance counselor to transfer him to regular classes. By senior year, he was making good grades, scoring points on the school’s soccer team and playing guitar in a rock-and-roll band. He was also wondering what might come next.
– Carlos Ramirez, MSN '09
“I knew the band wasn’t going anywhere,” he says, chuckling at the thought.
Attending a career fair at school proved to be a pivotal moment for Ramirez. During the fair, he listened to a panel of nurses discussing their work. They talked about college, and he realized that taking classes at the community college in town seemed the most accessible to him.
Within two years of finishing high school, Ramirez had signed up for the nursing program at Imperial Valley College and was hired at El Centro Regional Medical Center as an emergency department aide while finishing his nursing degree.
“One of the professors saw how much I loved caring for the patients and recommended me,” he says. He explains that he was encouraged by their positive feedback. “It made me feel very good.”
Ambitious, called a “natural-born leader” by friends and family, Ramirez migrated toward hard work, including picking grapes in Coachella, California, and taking a second job grilling and serving burgers during his early college years.
“Customer service. That’s where it started,” he quips. After earning his registered nurse (RN) license, he was soon promoted to his first leadership position as the in-charge nurse during his shift at the medical center.
“In a rural setting, there are not a lot of nurses. You get promoted quickly—maybe too quickly. I was thrown in without having management experience. But I was lucky. I’d already had that strong clinical experience and natural leadership ability,” Ramirez says.
Throughout his career, he’s seen many nurses put into leadership positions before they were ready. “They’d last less than a year on the job,” he says.
“From my own experience, I’ve discovered you need education. You need a higher level of knowledge and communication skills to be successful in nurse management,” he says. “Many people can be great nurses, but can they speak to other people, implement new policies and procedures? Can they lead?”
“In my rural community, there was a lack of bachelor's or master's degree nurses and leaders. I wanted to make a difference, and become well-educated and experienced in order to advance in my career and to help my colleagues and my community,” he says.
Committed to continuing to teach and train, Ramirez now shadows nursing students twice weekly at the local hospital. He hopes to inspire and motivate them to continue with higher education.
“We need more nurse leaders in our small rural community representing nurses in the inpatient and outpatient settings,” he says.
The natural-born leader is showing them how to succeed.
For gainful employment information, please visit phoenix.edu/programs/gainful-employment.html.