Bull Nurse Anesthetist To Fulfill Dream to ‘Do More’
When April Morris graduates from USF in December, few will know the magnitude of what she overcame to become a nurse anesthetist.
Coming from a poverty-stricken home in Rockville, Maryland, where both of her parents were in and out of jail on drug offenses, Morris became a mother of two by the end of her senior year of high school. After her older brother was also jailed on drug charges, she says family members feared she was next.
Despite being the first in her family to graduate from high school, Morris said that even her inner circle had already decided she would be unable to break the cycle of generational poverty. Even though she was having success in school, family members saw being a mother as a roadblock to a better life.
“Once I had a child, they were kind of like ‘OK, your life is over with,’” she said. “I was determined more so to prove them wrong. I wanted to do this because they were telling me it was not going to happen.”
Morris, then 17, had her first child, a son, at the beginning of her senior year. Shortly after graduating, she gave birth to her daughter. To provide for her growing family, Morris began working two minimum-wage jobs, slicing deli meat and serving noodles at a restaurant.
With her mother in jail, Morris and her boyfriend tried to raise their two children while living with his parents. On top of that, she had the added responsibility of getting her two sisters, who lived with their grandmother, to and from school each day. After graduation, Morris knew she needed to find something more reliable. She started a nine-month internship as a medical assistant at a pediatric and family medical office. After her internship was complete, Morris was hired as a full-time medical assistant.
Over the course of eight years, Morris climbed higher up the organizational chain, moving to lead medical assistant, and then to clinical supervisor. She also decided to return to school, taking prerequisite courses at a local college in Maryland, eventually earning her associate’s degree.
Morris set her sights next on a bachelor’s degree, but had yet to decide on a program of study. Although her background was in medical management, she felt a higher calling of care. She ultimately chose nursing.
“There are people who come to work, to work, and some who want to make a difference in someone’s life,” she said. “I wanted to be in control of the difference myself.”
Morris enrolled online at Kaplan University, earning her BSN over 14 months, and completing clinical hours at Suburban Hospital. During her schooling, she continued to work the night shift as a bedside critical care nurse at Prince George’s Hospital, just outside of Rockville.
The bachelor’s degree brought Morris some relief, finally feeling like she was in a place where she could take care of herself and her children. It was not enough.
“I had to do more,” she said. “I knew I wanted to be challenged. I had been challenged my entire life, so I wanted to be challenged enough to where I felt like I was growing, not learning and repeating the same stuff.”
Morris began researching Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) programs, narrowing her choices to USF and the University of Maryland.
Morris attended the CRNA open house at the Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation, where she met the College of Nursing’s Susan Perry, PhD, CRNA, APRN, FAAN, the program director at the time. The two reconnected a short time later at the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists Conference in Washington, DC.
“Her pride in the program and her attitude made an impression on me,” Morris said.
The connection with Dr. Perry and the CRNA program excited Morris, who was now determined to settle in Florida, regardless of admission. The mother of two did so, finding work at Bayfront Hospital in St. Petersburg, and hoping she would get the call.
Eventually, she did.
Now 32, Morris believes that her graduate program has been the most difficult challenge she has ever faced. The payoff of this latest challenge will be no longer worrying about her children having food or shelter, like she did as a young mother.
“This is just what I’ve been driving for my whole life,” Morris added.
With the end of one journey in sight, Morris does not intend to stop. She plans to earn her Doctor of Nursing Practice someday. Meanwhile, she is focused on the education of those around her.
Morris’s son, 15, and daughter, 14, each plan to go to college when they graduate. Her daughter will begin working on her associate’s degree, starting at a collegiate academy in the fall.
Morris’s academic perseverance is also inspiring her sisters, nieces and nephews.
Her ultimate goal is to get everybody under one roof, where her sisters and their children can come together and be a family for the first time without worrying about what is next.
“I’m trying to create a better situation for the generation below us. We’ve been broken for so long that I just want everyone to love and inspire each other,” Morris said.
Story by Alex Hooper, USF College of Nursing