Rivera at Florida Hospital Heartland

At age 26, Rebeca Rivera, South Florida State College (SFSC) alumna, is not only living her dream of being a nurse, but she is giving back to an organization that gave her the encouragement she needed to move ahead in her career.  

Rivera, who works as a registered nurse at Florida Hospital Heartland, recently graduated with a Master of Science in Nursing from South University and will soon take on the position of nurse practitioner with a local internal medicine practice. 

She graduated from SFSC’s Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) program in 2013 and was immediately hired by Florida Hospital. In 2014, she completed her bachelor’s degree through Grand Canyon University. 

Rivera became interested in nursing at an early age and was always impressed by the professionalism and compassion of the nurse practitioner who worked in her doctor’s office. “In sixth grade, big changes happen to every girl, such as the beginning of menstruation. At that time in my life, the nurse practitioner was caring and took time to explain things.” 

While in sixth grade at Hill-Gustat Middle School in Sebring, a Take Stock in Children representative spoke to Rivera’s language arts class. “She encouraged everyone to apply to the Take Stock in Children program,” she said. “So, I took the information home, and my mom said, ‘Why not give it a shot?’” 

Take Stock in Children is a statewide program that provides children with a mentor and a two-plus-two college scholarship—two years at a state or community college and two years at a state university in Florida. The Take Stock staff also help the student obtain financial assistance for housing, transportation, and other such expenses. In return, the student signs a contract to earn at least a grade of C in every class, graduate from high school with good attendance records, maintain good behavior in school, and have no involvement with law enforcement or drugs. The SFSC Foundation serves as the lead agency for Take Stock in its service area of DeSoto, Hardee, and Highlands counties. 

“On the application for Take Stock, the student is asked to relate what they foresee as a career after graduating from college,” Rivera said. “They want you to start thinking about your career plan. Then, they’re able to set you up with a mentor who will encourage you.” 

Because of Rivera’s stated interest in nursing, Dolores Champion, an SFSC professor of nursing at that time, was assigned as her mentor. “Ms. Champion would meet with me during my lunch hour once a week,” Rivera said. “We’d not only talk about the nursing profession but also about personal things. For instance, she knew when my little nephew was born and how important that was to me. So, we’d talk about that.” 

2013 SFSC Commencement

In 2010, Rivera graduated from Avon Park High School with higher than a 4.0 GPA and went on to her nursing studies at SFSC. “I planned my nursing career out completely along the way,” she said.  

Now deeply entrenched in her profession, Rivera is transitioning from registered nurse to nurse practitioner. One of the differences she noted was her schedule. “I’m used to working three 12-hour shifts a week. As a nurse practitioner, my schedule will be Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.”  

Rivera indicated that as a nurse practitioner she can diagnose patients and prescribe medications. “My passion in nursing is educating patients about their disease process, treatment plans, and prevention of certain illnesses,” she said. 

Rivera has recently been working in the Critical Care Step-Down Unit, which is for patients who are one step away from Intensive Care Unit status. “We see patients who’ve had heart attacks, congestive heart failure, stroke, and pneumonia,” she said. “Anyone who has an underlying heart condition goes to that unit.”  

In her current position, she said that she enjoys the teaching aspect as well. “I like teaching patients about various aspects of congestive heart failure,” she said. “We provide our patients with daily pearls, things they should do every day to manage their condition. I like educating them on prevention strategies to keep them out of the hospital. Some of the educating we do at the hospital, I’ll be able to do in my future role.”  

“Ultimately, cardiology is my true passion,” she said. “But I need to get a solid foundation in primary care first. Primary care deals with care of the whole person.”  

But Take Stock has followed Rivera throughout her academic life, and she knew that Irene Castanon, director of the district Take Stock program, would always be a sounding board. “If I ever had questions about anything, I knew I could go to Ms. Castanon. I value her as a friend and someone who helped me along the way. In fact, when I got married, I emailed her about it. I’ve also told her about the bad stuff—when Hurricane Irma came and damaged our apartment.” 

Although Rivera hasn’t yet become a Take Stock mentor, she has been available to speak to mentors and students at recent events. 

“The first presentation I made was at the annual Mentor Appreciation Dinner in which I told the story of my Take Stock experience,” she said. “That speech was focused on the mentors, and I explained the difference they make to each Take Stock scholar. Not only does the Take Stock program provide emotional support and feel like a family, but mentors mold the scholars. For instance, when Ms. Champion came to see me, she was shaping me to become a nurse. She explained the positives and negatives of the nursing profession and illustrated the realities. It was helpful to hear from someone who’d been there.” 

Another event Rivera spoke at was a financial aid workshop. “I addressed the high school students and discussed how Take Stock takes many financial concerns away, freeing the students to focus on their education and pursue a passion.”  

Rivera offers this advice to high school students who may be undecided about their future. “If you can’t decide on a career while in high school, the best way to determine what sparks your interest is by trying things. I have a cousin who’s four years younger than I am, and she was undecided. So, she started working toward an associate degree. Use your elective courses wisely. And you can always volunteer to see if you’re going to like a particular course of study.” 

As encouragement to nursing students, Rivera said, “Always remember the excitement and passion you felt as a new graduate, don’t forget what lit a fire in you, and never lose sight of why you wanted to be a nurse.” 

To learn more about Take Stock in Children or to volunteer as a mentor, contact Castanon at 863-784-7343.