Outstanding Islander Graduate Sarah Vasquez ’19, ’23 earns Master’s Degree in Nursing as First-Gen Student

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — “The journey was a long and hard one, but well worth it.”

Those words are how Sarah Vasquez ’19, ’23, the Fall 2023 Outstanding Islander Graduate for the College of Nursing and Health Sciences at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, describes her time navigating both her nursing school education and the COVID-19 pandemic. After completing a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from TAMU-CC in 2019, Vasquez found herself amid a global pandemic working as a young nurse in the surgical trauma unit at Driscoll Children’s Hospital. Following the peak of the pandemic, Vasquez observed that many of her colleagues were grappling with heightened stress, grief, and the cumulative effects of working during a public health crisis.

“It was hard to see how the pandemic affected the nurses all around me, and the lack of support many of them felt,” she said. “It was then that I realized I wanted to be a part of the administrative change to ensure nurses felt supported and to decrease the extreme instances of burnout that they still struggle with.”

That aspiration to become a transformative force in health care propelled her to earn a Master of Science in Nursing-Leadership Systems from TAMU-CC. She’ll walk the commencement stage on Saturday, Dec. 16, in receipt of that degree. Vasquez was able to juggle the rigors of the fully online program while working as a travel nurse. Her assignments have taken her to children’s hospitals in Dallas, California, and Ohio.

“As a travel nurse, I bring everything I’ve learned as an Islander to help children across the United States,” she said. “With every new hospital, I take the things I’ve learned and show them the Islander Way. I explain how I started my journey in Corpus Christi and how I am a proud Islander.”

During her time as a graduate student, Vasquez was a dedicated community volunteer, spending countless hours at COVID-19 vaccine clinics both delivering vaccines and mentoring undergraduate nursing students to become more confident in administering vaccines. In her graduate program, she also conducted meaningful research regarding the correlation between nurses taking consistent breaks from work, a decrease in nurse burnout and fatigue, and the subsequent positive effect on patient outcomes.

“Receiving my Certified Pediatric Nurse credentials help me define my ultimate goal of becoming a director of a pediatric unit, and someday, the Chief Nursing Officer of a pediatric hospital,” she said. “That way, I can make a difference by providing staff with proper support and resources to ensure both satisfied nurses and the highest quality care to patients.”

Vasquez, a native of San Benito, Texas, has always been strongly motivated by the opportunity to uplift others. One of five children, Vasquez spent her childhood traveling with her family as her father took on jobs as a migrant farmworker.

“For as long as I can remember, we were constantly moving to different states for work opportunities,” she said. “Despite financial disadvantages, my parents worked hard to ensure that we had what we needed growing up — they inspired me to do more.”

During her undergraduate years, Vasquez held two jobs, including that of migrant farmwork alongside her parents and older brother.

“I wanted to show my family and all other children of migrant farmworkers that it was possible, and I am proud to have been a first-generation college graduate,” Vasquez said.

Vasquez credits her time at the Island University with shaping her into the nurse she is today.

“The TAMU-CC faculty and staff were always so supportive of my goals,” she said. “Now, as I graduate from the Island University for the second time, I will join the 8% of Latina women who hold a master’s degree. My journey was a long and hard one, but well worth it, and TAMU-CC has helped me grow along the way.”