For Pamela Lane – a recipient of the 2012 California State University, Dominguez Hills Presidential Award for Outstanding Student for academics, leadership and community service and the Presidential Award for Personal Perseverance who was once a high school dropout – walking in commencement exercises to receive her Master of Science in Nursing this past Saturday was not merely an academic accomplishment, but a personal triumph in turning the troubles and tragedies of her past into a future of helping others.
Lane grew up in a broken home, her parents having divorced when she was 4 years old and her mother, who remarried and divorced twice more– to abusive heavy drinkers– abandoning her and her brothers when Lane was in first grade. Her school life wasn’t any better.
Because she was having difficulties keeping up in her classes, teachers and administrators, frustrated because they couldn’t help her, attempted to label her “retarded.” An IQ test revealed quite the opposite; however she continued to fail. (It wasn’t until she was an adult that she was diagnosed with dyslexia).
A high school dropout at 16, Lane hitchhiked from Arizona to Colorado and wound up living on the streets for a year. She eventually made her way back to Arizona and enrolled in community college. But soon after her return, she was kidnapped by a drug addict/dealer and held captive for more than a year under threat of killing her father and family should she try to escape.
Her nightmare ended when police arrested him in an attempted kidnapping of another woman, and Lane sought to begin her life anew. Taking a job as a receptionist at a doctor’s office, she worked her way up to being a nurse in the large family practice. She considered going to college to earn her registered nurse degree, but self-doubt lingered; she still believe what had been drummed into her through her early school experience—that she couldn’t learn, in particular, that she couldn’t learn math.
“That was a really long and painful journey back,” she said, adding, “I started to develop confidence. I just kept trying until I could do something.”
That something turned out to be writing, which landed her in the television industry, writing and producing documentaries for The Discovery Channel and similar outlets. She worked her way up to senior producer as the landscape of television began to change and in 2000 she started producing reality TV shows. It was fun, at first, she said, but she didn’t find what she was doing to be rewarding.
“It was where the money was, but it just wasn’t where my heart was. There was no future that I could embrace and I didn’t want to work just for a paycheck. I wanted to do something I felt was meaningful.”
Realizing a Dream
Having earned her bachelor’s degree in creative writing from Antioch University in Los Angeles in 2005 and a Master of Fine Arts in creative non-fiction from Goucher College in Baltimore, Md., Lane finally had the confidence and courage to realize her earlier dream.
“I thought that I would try for the hardest thing that I could possibly imagine, and that was to become an RN,” she said. “That was the first dream that I let go because I didn’t think I was smart enough. I didn’t think I was good enough.”
Taking full advantage of all the free tutoring possible, she immersed herself in algebra, statistics, and chemistry courses at Santa Monica College to prepare herself for the nursing program at CSU Dominguez Hills, where students are required to enter with a B grade or better in all the prerequisite science courses.
“When I didn’t fail, it gave me the confidence to go for the next thing, then the next thing…”
Lane considered CSU Dominguez Hills, because it offered accelerated clinical nurse leader master’s programs. Once she got to the university, things certainly accelerated, and expanded.
Not only was she getting straight A’s, but she began helping others through volunteer work. She currently volunteers at No One Dies Alone (NODA), a non-profit organization that provides companionship to patients who are dying alone in the hospital. As the patients lie dying, Lane holds their hands, sings, talks, and tells them someone loves them. Lane also serves as a volunteer nurse educator at the nonprofit Ocean Park Community Center (OPCC) in Santa Monica, which offers services and aid to low-income and homeless people, at-risk youth, battered women and their children, and people living with mental illness. She also leads a shoe and sock drive and collects hygiene supplies and cash donations through a charity she created and named “Angels Outreach” that operates in support of OPCC. For that, three times a year Lane measures, fits donated shoes, and treats the feet of the center’s visitors.
Lane says she does so much for people who are alone, homeless, isolated, dying or suffering because she’s been there. But she doesn’t just rally for the homeless and dying. She rallies for nurses.
One way she is doing that is through a program she is working on, which she has named “Reach,” to help nurses deal with trauma and death, as well as burnout —what she terms “disenfranchised grief.” It is the result of a study that she has worked on for the past year and a half, “Rapid Decompression from Grief and Loss for Nurses and Health Care Professionals,” and she is hopeful Cedars-Sinai, a magnet hospital with an innovative nursing research center where she is completing her second preceptorship, will take it on. Eventually she would like to see the program offered free to health care professionals working in hospitals.
Cynthia Johnson, chair, professor and coordinator of the MSN program, said not only is this a groundbreaking study, but that master-level students do not typically initiate research, usually doctoral students or doctorate trained nurses do.
“Because of her performance, she was able to collaborate with a nurse manager to do a research study. This is a first for a MEPN (Masters Entry-level Professional Nursing) student, and a first for the School of Nursing,” said Johnson, who nominated Lane for the Presidential Award for Personal Perseverance.
Lane is also taking on Sacramento on behalf of nurses. Selected by the CSU Dominguez Hills nursing student organization to attend nurse lobby day in front of the state legislature this year, Lane did more than just observe, she lobbied.
“I made an appointment with the Governor’s office. I made an appointment with Senator [Fran] Pavley’s office. I made flyers,” she said, explaining that there is currently a 43 percent new nurse unemployment rate in California, yet the state continues to import thousands of experienced nurses from foreign countries, rather than training graduate nurses from universities throughout the state.
Lane has posted on new graduate job boards to hear from California nursing graduates who have been unemployed for more than a year, to gather stories from majorly populated cities. Armed with stories of actual people, she hopes to be able to attract attention from local media in those areas.
“These are top students, not [poorly performing] students. And they’re all licensed nurses, but they can’t get a job,” said Lane, who admitted this is such a big issue that she had to put it on a back burner so she could concentrate on graduating.
No longer haunted by her past, she is not worried about the next step—taking the NCLEX for her RN license and then the test for clinical nurse leader certification.
Lane said, “That will be no problem, because now I have academic confidence.”