Outstanding Islander Sydney Sandoval ’23 Overcomes RA Diagnosis, Earns Nursing Degree

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Sydney Sandoval ’23 has known she wanted to be a nurse since she was 13 years old. The Rosenberg, Texas, native took part in a job shadowing program at her local hospital when the flight nurses came in and explained what they do. Since then, she was hooked.

“Every decision I have made has pushed me closer to my goal of being a flight nurse one day,” Sandoval said. 

That path took her directly to Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, from which she is poised to graduate on Aug. 12 as the College of Nursing and Health Sciences Outstanding Islander Graduate for Summer 2023. The Aug. 12 ceremony is breaking records with 740 students earning their degrees, making it the largest summer class in the university’s 76-year history.

Sandoval said the decision to attend TAMU-CC was an easy one.

“The wonderful nursing program at TAMU-CC was recommended to me by many practicing nurses,” Sandoval said. “Also, I was drawn to the community-oriented nature of the university. Coming from a smaller town, I really valued the size of the university. I liked the idea of getting to know my professors and not feeling like just a number.”

Sandoval came to the Island University in fall 2020 with some dual credit courses and prerequisites completed already, which helped her finish her Bachelor of Science in Nursing in only three years. 

Those three years were action-packed. As a member of the Honors Program, Sandoval immediately got involved with the campus. In her first semester, she helped organize a nature trail beautification project with her Honors classmates and connected with the University Council of Student Organizations (USCO). She earned the role of vice president of UCSO in December 2020.

Academically, things were also going well for Sandoval, who began clinical rotations at Corpus Christi Medical Center Doctors Regional in March 2022. 

During this time, though, she started experiencing nagging stiffness and pain in her hands. It wasn’t until Sandoval was hospitalized last summer for the flu-turned-pneumonia that she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Because she had gone a year without treatment for her RA, she was told some of the damage to her body could be permanent. She was put on an aggressive medication regimen to prevent any further damage.

“This diagnosis shook my whole world,” Sandoval said. “At my clinical rotations, I struggled to open medications, take notes, and even carry my backpack. I was distraught at the idea that after all my studies, I may graduate from nursing school unable to even open my own pill bottles.”

Sandoval was in constant pain, but she persisted. She decided the diagnosis was part of her life, but not her whole life. She persevered, staying involved on campus and maintaining her 3.9 GPA.

“Sydney has impressed me as a dedicated and excellent student,” said Leigh Shaver, TAMU-CC Assistant Clinical Professor of Nursing. “I was so thankful that, despite her RA diagnosis, she was a part of our Costa Rica Nursing Study Abroad this past summer, where she worked and played hard, even hiking through the rainforest!”

During her last year at the Island University, as she managed her condition, she also stretched her involvement academically and in the community. For her Honors Program Project of Excellence, she co-authored a research report about older adults living in community facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. She also served as president of Islander Catholic, vice president of the Student Nurses Association, and president of UCSO. In the latter role, Sandoval spoke at community events about the importance of being involved on campus, helped establish new guidelines for organizations on campus, guided advisors in their roles, and volunteered for Islander Launch and Homecoming.

“Through the various positions Sydney has held, she has learned to hone her skills in communication, organization, and leadership,” said Dr. Lisa Perez, ’94, ’16, TAMU-CC Associate Vice President for Student Support and Dean of Students. “Sydney is not one to keep things to herself but rather one who shares her experiences. In sharing her experiences with others in her organizations, she has built a great rapport with students and staff throughout the university.”

Her love for the university grew even stronger when she received her Islander Ring last spring, further enriching her already cherished campus experiences.

“I’ve been looking forward to getting my Islander ring since the day I first set foot on the Island,” Sandoval said. “I got to watch my brother Benjamin Sandoval ’24 and some of my best friends get their rings. When it was finally my turn, I was so happy to be part of the tradition.”

After graduation, Sandoval will work in the Neuro ICU/IMU at Memorial Hermann Southwest in Houston. She said it’s a position she is well-prepared for thanks to her time at the Island University.

“​​I have had so many wonderful opportunities to grow in my public speaking skills and in my ability to network with others,” Sandoval said. “I’ve also grown into a more confident nurse thanks to my time in the nursing program, led by some amazing faculty and clinical instructors. Since my first day as an Islander, I would say my confidence in myself has grown the most.”