Abandoned by both parents at a tender age, I learned how brutal pill desertion is to swallow. I grew up in Jamaica, West Indies, without a place to call home; as a result, I lived in various homes and suffered varying degrees of mistreatment. I was abused, beaten, molested, and left to suffer the Cinderella Syndrome. However, I persevered and quickly learned that education was the only area in my life that I had control over; and was sure would be the only thing that would help me transform my life. I learned at a tender age that if you want something, you must become a go-getter. In the ghetto, I learned to sublimate the feelings of melancholy and developed a spirit of perseverance and dedication. I acquired an excellent work ethic and was determined to be the best at whatever I set out to do.
With this purpose in mind, I set out to make an impact on whoever lives I encounter. In Jamaica, primary education came at a cost, and without my parents, this became a challenge. However, I did have some help along the way from people who felt the need to pay it forward. In my early years, I was lucky to find some teachers who saw my potential and took extra effort to succeed academically. I also have an aunt who has been the cornerstone in my life since I was young; she invested in my education and supported my dreams. She never stopped caring and always believed in me, even when she moved away to America. She helped me through high school, then made a bold move to get me to America.
At age eighteen (1999), I found myself illegally in a strange country, hoping for the American dream. Years went by, and the only progress I made was to secure a job working for $4.50 in a clothing store. Nevertheless, I never stopped dreaming. At age 23, a voice told me to reach out to an old friend in Jamaica (the call cost me nearly $500- the best money I ever spent); it was during that call that I got the inspiration to return to school. It was challenging at first because I was still undocumented.
Nonetheless, I inquired and applied to Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) and was accepted. I was excited to enroll in the nursing program (the most focused I have ever been). The new problem of paying for the tuition presented itself because my boss decided to cut my hours down significantly. A friend of mine told me to apply for a scholarship, I was hesitant because I was illegal, but through GOD’s GRACE and GOOD GRADES, I could secure a full scholarship until graduation.
I proudly graduated BMCC in 2007 with an Associate Degree in Nursing and finally got married! I got my first RN job in 2008 as a new graduate working in the Medical Intensive Care Unit (MICU), but not without its challenges. It was the first time I understood the true meaning of the phrase “nurses eat their young.” The manager had hired ten new grads, and the senior staff was “hell-bent” on driving us out of the unit. It is in that very ICU that I learned to be resilient and assertive. I also learned to think critically and became practical at problem-solving and conflict resolution. Within a year, I was the resource person for the night nurses. I made myself familiar with several policies and procedures, and I organized learning sessions throughout the shift. The doctors respected me as a clinician and trusted me with the care of their patients. I am a devoted patient advocate who places the patient at the center of my care. I treat everyone as if it was myself or a family member lying in bed.
In 2009 I decided to obtain my BSN at SUNY Downstate Medical; at this time, I was pregnant and faced with new challenges, but I graduated cum lade. To get upward mobility, I returned to Downstate in 2012 to obtain my MSN as a Nurse Practitioner (NP). I started working as an NP in 2013. Being an NP came with new challenges; however, I learned how to collaborate with physicians and independently manage the care of my patients. However, I felt that I could contribute more to nursing and the development of nurses.
So, I decided to become a nurse leader and obtain a Doctorate in Nursing Practice (DNP) Healthcare Leadership at Chamberlain University in 2014. Within ten months, the director promoted me to the role of Nurse Manager and again found myself pregnant. I took a year and a half off from my DNP program to learn the job and manage my pregnancy; this was the worst decision I could have made, as I only had four classes remaining -to complete the program. This break lasted a year and a half. In 2017 I finally concluded that my decision was foolish and returned to obtain my degree in 2018. In 2021 I received a Master in Business Administration (MBA) in healthcare system management to understand how to operate a business. My ultimate dream is to own a mental health and wellness practice and own several companies. I currently work as a Nurse Manager and Administrator and as an Assistant Professor at Columbia University and BMCC.
Throughout the years, I have learned that sometimes we are faced with challenges that we think are too enormous of a barrier to achieving our goals, but we can reach our highest potential through sheer determination and a shift in mindset. This shift in perspective takes courage, positive affirmation, perseverance, and a drive like no other. I have always believed that I can achieve anything I put my mind to, and I have always had a “prove them wrong” mentality. Throughout my life, I’ve had people betting and hoping that I would fail and never achieve anything; those people were my biggest motivators. So, today I challenge each of you to be that voice of encouragement, to inspire and support each other in your personal and professional development. “Be the change you want to see.” “Do not be crippled by imagined fear,” and as Roy T. Bennett quoted, “Do not be pushed around by the fears in your mind. Be led by the DREAMS in your heart”. Take the time to learn networking and team-building skills. Learn to manage your emotions and do not let them steer you away from opportunities. In all things, maintain good composure, positivity, and a winning spirit. Take the time to self-reflect; know yourself; write down your goals (give them a timeline and frequently revisit them to monitor progress). Finally, If I can do it, so can you! I have always believed that “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” So, I will leave with you my high school motto, “Prayer and work conquers all.”
Donna-Kay Hylton, DNP, MBA, APRN, FNP-BC, NE-BC