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Muhammed Wesley will begin working as a nurse at Lourdes Hospital in June. He received his first bachelor's degree in history from Binghamton University in 2015.
Photo by Jonathan Cohen
Commencement 2016 profile: Muhammed Wesley
May 16, 2016Tweet
When Muhammed Wesley walks across the Commencement stage and receives his bachelor’s degree from the Decker School of Nursing, he will be a year removed from his first Binghamton University bachelor’s degree and a month from starting a job at Lourdes Hospital.
Wesley has come a long way since dropping out of high school.
“I feel fortunate to have gone to Binghamton University,” said Wesley, 32. “Decker is top-notch, the staff is top-notch and the students are top-notch. I will always represent Binghamton University – always.”
The long road to Decker
Wesley attended school in Binghamton until the eighth grade, when he moved 30 miles away to Deposit. There, he spent half a year in what he called “a bad environment.”
“I just wasn’t into school,” he said. “There was a lot going on, so I dropped out. I didn’t go back.”
At age 17, a friend tried to convince Wesley to obtain his General Educational Development (GED).
“I said: ‘No, I hate school,’” he recalled. “I was young and didn’t understand the importance (of education). Then one day, I happened to go with him to the program.”
Wesley earned his GED and spent the next several years working “dead-end jobs” in the Binghamton area and Atlanta. Upon returning to Binghamton, he got a position as a counselor at the Handicapped Children’s Association. It was there that Wesley decided that he would pursue a career in science and nursing.
“I was sitting and thinking one day: I’m tired of being broke!” he said. “So I started school at 26 and told myself that by the time I’m 32, I want to be set.”
Wesley applied to SUNY Broome and began taking classes there in 2010.
“It was rough,” he said of the transition to college. “When I started at Broome, I was the first person at the library and the last one to leave. I knew all of the staff there – everybody by name. I used to live in the math lab.”
Taking courses such as chemistry was especially challenging, since Wesley had no high school background in the topics.
“I needed to study all day, every day,” he said. “I was working some overnight shifts and would even study during my (work) breaks.”
After succeeding at Broome, Wesley transferred to Binghamton University. Although his heart was set on getting into nursing, Wesley decided to major in an area that forced him to improve his writing and reading skills: history.
“I didn’t have the discipline to sit and read,” said Wesley, who even worked as a cab driver to make ends meet. “If I majored in history, it would make me need to read. You can’t get a lucky guess when taking a written exam.”
In November 2014, Wesley applied to the Decker School of Nursing and impressed Sara Wozniak, the school’s director of student services.
“Too often I meet memorable students I never want to forget, but my reality after meeting thousands upon thousands of students over the years is that I regrettably forget them,” Wozniak said. “If I’m lucky I remember, at the very least, their name, their accomplishments or their face. Muhammed has left a lasting impression that I will remember for the rest of my life. … I knew that he would be the perfect addition to our accelerated program, (which) attracts a multitude of applicants from around the world to enroll in a 12-month intensely rigorous program.”
Wesley was soon accepted to the school’s Baccalaureate Accelerated Track (BAT) Program. By the time he graduated with his history degree in May 2015, he believed he had a combination of scientific and writing skills to go forward.
A year in nursing school
Making the transition from the humanities to nursing was initially difficult for Wesley, who had not taken anatomy-based science classes in years.
“The first summer of the program was rough,” he said. “It was brutal. Long nights. No sleep. I sent Sara a few e-mails singing the blues!”
But Wozniak and the Decker staff proved supportive to Wesley during trying times.
“(Wozniak) always gave me reassurance that the program was possible,” he said. “She said the program is hard, but to focus on the work. She could always point me in the right direction.”
The first group of clinical rotations was also stressful. Wesley recalled the first rotation at Willow Point Nursing Home in Vestal.
“That was nerve-wracking,” he said. “You don’t know what to expect when you first start.”
Decker’s family atmosphere also helped Wesley get through the summer and fall.
“The students who enter nursing are diverse and more mature,” he said. “You have to be mature to deal with patients and real people who are sick. I feel like I’m a lot closer with the people in this class than any group of people I’ve ever met in college. They are amazing.”
By the end of November 2015, Wesley said he “could see some light at the end of the tunnel.”
“By the spring, everything is starting to click – the skills you are learning, along with the classwork,” he said. “You understand what’s going on in the hospital.”
Alison Dura, a clinical lecturer at Decker, said Wesley’s questions and energy have often been directed toward “real-world” understanding of concepts.
“What really shines out about him, though, are his interpersonal skills and ‘people management.’” Dura said. “I had the pleasure of supervising him in a hospital setting last fall. There, I saw a completely different side of him than I saw in the classroom. Here was a person who could really connect with all kinds of patients, and incorporate teaching into his care. A number of patients commented that they felt really valued and important when he was their nursing student.
“The nurses he worked with were impressed with his time management and energy – even at the early part of his clinical practice. Often, students in the early clinical rotations are focused on learning skills. He learned those very quickly, and instead focused on truly holistic care.”
More education to come
Wesley will begin a position as a nurse in Lourdes Hospital’s telemetry unit in late June. A telemetry nurse provides care to patients whose heart rates are being monitored closely.
“I am grateful,” he said. “I don’t think I would have made it this far without God’s help, my faith in him or the support I received from my family and close friends. But I’m not yet satisfied. I feel like I have even more to do with my education. … I’m going to take a year, work and learn how to properly be a nurse. Then hopefully I’ll go back to school.”
Wesley envisions someday pursuing a master’s degree or doctorate and becoming a nurse practitioner or a nurse anesthetist. He also has a broader goal.
“I want to be a humanitarian,” he said. “I feel that the medical field can lay the grounds to be able to do that. There are a lot of people in bad situations. I want to give back.”
Wozniak has no doubts that Wesley will thrive in the future.
“I imagine the same charismatic personality that safely drove (taxi) passengers from point A to point B, will be the same deliberate and genuine personality that will see patients and their families through some of the most life-altering experiences of their lives,” she said. “While Muhammed undoubtedly appreciates all that Decker has done for him, having the pleasure of cheering him on from the sidelines as he enrolled, pursued and graduates from our nursing program has been the greatest, most rewarding gift.”
Although Wesley admitted that it has been “a grind” to get to this point, the Binghamton trek has been worthwhile.
“Going into college without that high-school background, it was crazy!” he said. “But I’ve finished something that is going to prepare me for bigger, better things.”