Equipped to Lead and Succeed

Finding my Voice: I Know I Can Make a Difference

by Aaliyah Cunningham '24

I’m a young woman from Arkansas who lived in Houston, TX, during my high school years. When the University of San Francisco, USF, invited me to join the nursing program, I was ecstatic but also concerned about how I was going to cover for tuition and expenses. I saw USF as a great opportunity and felt the calling. My intuition was telling me this was the right decision.

Aaliyah Cunningham image

The values the university stood for and the education I was been offered was not something I could easily brush off. Receiving the financial aid and scholarships meant I could join, and by joining the ROTC program, I was not only gaining leadership skills but paying for my additional expenses. Other universities had approached me with a full scholarship, but at USF, I was gaining the qualities of a nursing leader and the opportunities to advocate for my patients and become the healthcare professional I wanted to become. So here I am, a Junior 1 USF Nursing student, an ROTC, McGrath Scholar, and GoTeam member, graduating in December 2024!

Last year, I had some academic challenges, and I doubted myself. My stepmom, who is an RN shared that as a nursing student, you have to be very disciplined and do lots of studying. I did not fit her ideal profile. I’m not good at memorizing, but finally, I’m starting to learn the nursing concepts and language. I’m learning to understand and think critically. I’m thinking like a nurse! In the process, I have also learned that it is OK not always be at my best. I’m a perfectionist, a straight “A” student, but I did not pass a test the first time. However, I know I’ll be a great nurse who interacts and empathizes with people. I have to work harder on concepts, but I am great with people.

Growing up, I attended Sunday church. I noticed there was a lady every Sunday, and she was alone. I started sitting with her and became her caretaker during church. I formed a bond like a grandmother. I loved seeing her every Sunday and being a companion to her. I visited her at the hospice. I didn’t get to say the official goodbye, but I know we were important to each other. I always see people as a whole person and experienced her process of getting old. She had mentioned she was ready to die, and I had time to think about this. If I didn’t attend church on a Sunday,  Mrs. Bowen would ask for me. I know I’ll be an essential person for my patients and will make sure I am there for them. Some RN’s are done by giving their patients their medication, I’ll not stop there. I want to be a part of my patient's healing process.

My stepmom would share her stories about visiting outpatients. They would check these patients, and sometimes even read to them, help them pay the bills, get groceries or other chores they needed to be done. That’s what I thought about nursing—having time with the patients. We need more humanity in this profession, and my skills set will be suitable.

At USF, I have made a lot of connections, and I know a lot of people! I’m still an introvert and know I need my space to recharge. I’ve learned to listen to my needs and have a routine that helps me accomplish more. A teacher once said to me, “you can’t pour from an empty cup.” She is right. I am finding what works for me and not comparing with others. You are the only one that knows what works for you.

Knowing myself has also helped me. In interviews, I do better when I am myself and not try to be what I am not. Lots of USF students are academically driven, took AP classes, are athletes, and belong to student organizations — I have to focus on my lane — and remind myself not to compare my path.

I am and will be changing the world from here. Having experienced a low-income neighborhood, I know what the lack of resources means. I saw the difference in produce, schools, access, and activities. I’ve lived in a food desert area and have chosen the affordable meals that affect people’s health. We had to travel to other locations for healthy food. Public health toward minority communities is in my plans. I’m passionate about the food industry and its connection to health. I’m also interested in patient education. I think about my grandmother, who is a strong believer, but needs to take of herself, “God will not take care of her hypertension,” I stress. Meeting patients where they are, with their beliefs, experience, and at their life stages, is an essential part of being a good nurse. I’m excited about my future and the impact I will have on my patients and community.