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“Since I was in, I think, about 4th or 5th grade I knew I wanted to be a nurse,” says Brittany Wilborn, RN. It took the mother of five nearly a decade, but Wilborn, our Nurse of the Week, knows how to persevere and how to pace herself. She has cleared the many obstacles in her path, developed an arsenal of leadership skills, and is steadily amassing a collection of nursing credentials. Over the past 10 years, she progressed from a CNA to an LPN, then an ADN RN. Before the ink had dried on her RN, she had gone on to enroll in a BSN program. And after that? She plans to become an FNP.
Wilborn’s nursing aspirations were born early in life. As a child in Galesburg, Illinois, when Brittany went to see her pediatrician, it was not the doctor, but the nurse who attracted the little girl’s rapt admiration. The APRN-to-be recalls, “I thought she was so pretty, and she was professional. The way she approached me and treated me, made me feel better about myself and the situation. That’s when I knew that I wanted to be a nurse.”
But she had a lot of living to experience first. After Wilborn graduated from high school in 2010, she enrolled at Carl Sandberg College to begin her studies and earn her CNA credentials. However, life had other plans for her. Brittany became pregnant and soon dropped out to give birth to twin boys. (Twin boys have a talent for stopping all sorts of things). For the next few years, she focused on mothering the boys through their Terrible Twos and had two more children. Looking back, Wilborn thinks she needed to do some growing up herself first. “Now I feel like it [dropping out of college] was an excuse that I was making,” she said, and added, “And I think it’s one that a lot of us, as parents, make. ‘Oh, the kids, oh the kids!” After giving birth to child number four, though, she decided it was time to move fully into independent adulthood and pursue that nursing career: “2014 is when my journey really began to take off. I became a CNA, started working, got an apartment, and moved out of my mom’s house….”
After earning her CNA, Brittany went on to complete Sandburg’s Licensed Practical Nursing program in 2018. However, as a woman of color she had been subject to so many non-criminal law enforcement encounters that the NCLEX-PN criminal background check was deeply intimidating. Anxious and overwhelmed, she went no further until Covid and an insightful instructor pushed her forward. While Wilborn was working as a CNA at the height of the pandemic, the nurse she was assisting told her, “I don’t know why you won’t be a nurse. Why won’t you take your boards?’ Then, Stacy Bainter, MSN, a Sandburg nursing faculty member, also urged her to go ahead. “I realized that [your history] doesn’t define who you are and what you’re capable of,” Wilborn says. And, with a conscientiousness typical of good nurses, she thought, “If (Bainter) believed in me and Sandburg believed in me to give me this degree, I owe it to them to at least apply for my nursing license and put it to use.” She also began to flex her leadership skills (valuable not only for nurses but to any mother of twin boys). Brittany joined Sandburg’s Black Student Association, became a student trustee for Sandburg’s Board of Trustees, and was selected as chairperson for the Illinois Community College Board’s Student Advisory Committee.
Today, Wilborn has five kids and a growing collection of degrees and certifications. She is now an RN with an associate’s degree (ADN), but that is just the beginning. Wilborn is pursuing her BSN now at a joint Sandburg/Chamberlain College program, and after that plans to enroll in the FNP program at Chamberlain College. If there are more obstacles ahead, Wilborn will find her way around them: “It’s necessary for me to keep going because I know that I can. It’s necessary because I feel like I shouldn’t limit myself. For some people, the ceiling, that’s their limit. And for others, the ceiling is your bottom.”
For more on Brittany Wilborn, RN, see her interview with local TV station KWQC.
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