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Longtime Sunnyside teacher, nanny turns to nursing after losing her job during the COVID-19 pandemic


LaGuardia Community College earned the top ranking among New York State RN programs last fall. (Courtesy of LGACC)

April 7, 2023, By Bill Parry

For nearly a decade, Chelsea Vaughan was a familiar figure among Sunnyside families as a nanny, babysitter, and art teacher at The Q StudioLab on Queens Boulevard. She is known for her kindness and childcare skills, but Vaughan found herself unemployed during the “big pause,” as she refers to the COVID-19 pandemic. She decided to go to nursing school and applied to programs across the country before landing at LaGuardia Community College in neighboring Long Island City.

“Because LaGuardia’s Registered Nursing Program is so competitive, I applied to programs as far away as South Carolina,” Vaughan said. “LaGuardia was my first choice, not only because it is the top-ranked nursing school in New York State, but because it puts nursing students in clinical settings from day one. I realized that I wanted to have more of an impact on a daily basis. I was working with kids and teaching painting, which I loved, but I wanted to reach more people. I wanted to become a healer.”

The Michigan native decided to pursue nursing as a career after learning of her aunt’s hospital experience following a car crash.

“Her accident was during a time when hospitals only allowed one person at a time in a patient’s room,” Vaughan said. “Her experience showed me how important nurses are to a patient’s healing and recovery.”

Vaughan on her first day of clinicals at NYC Health + Hospitals/Bellevue last September. (Courtesy of LGACC)

She started at LaGuardia in the fall of 2021, taking prerequisites to apply for nursing candidacy. Now in her second semester, the 33-year-old is in LaGuardia’s Registered Nursing Program.

“I really like the challenge of what I’m doing,” Vaughan said. “I’ve never worked so hard in my life.”

With help from biology professors Dr. Ingrid Veras and Dr. Joby Jacob, Vaughan received a stipend from the CUNY Research Scholars Program (CRSP) to conduct research testing Newtown Creek for antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

“Right away, I was interested because I’m passionate about public health,” said Vaughan, one of a few nursing majors accepted into CRSP. “Interestingly, the project is directly relevant to nursing. In humans, antibiotic-resistant bacteria can cause life-threatening Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) or staph infections.”

The experience with the CRSP project made Vaughan interested in incorporating public health or environmental research in her future career. On May 26, Vaughan will present a poster about the project at LGACC’s CRSP Research Day, and on June 7, she will present her work at a year-end, CUNY-wide undergraduate research celebration for CRSP participants.

Vaughan recently earned a Marilyn Skony Stamm and Arthur Stamm Scholar from the LGACC Foundation and is on track to graduate with her associate in nursing next spring.

“After completing my RN at LaGuardia, I hope to find a job that will sponsor my Bachelor of Science in Nursing,” Vaughan said. “My goal is to become a nurse anesthetist. It will be a long road, but I’m ready for it.“

She added that she applies her caregiving skills and experience working with children in Sunnyside to her nursing education.

“I sometimes see patients as children. It might sound funny, but it makes me more comfortable,” Vaughan said. “It allows me to feel in control and able to provide comfort. I want to make my patients feel like we’re on the same team.”

LaGuardia’s nursing program earned the top ranking in the state last October, with courses covering approximately 75 different specialties. Nurses in advanced practice are prepared to assume greater autonomy in areas such as primary care, clinical specialties, anesthesia, and midwifery. Following classroom learning, students are placed in a clinical internship with partner hospitals and medical facilities.

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