Article audio is made possible by CAST11 Prescott Podcast Network. A Talking Glass Media production.
When Alexa Rodriguez walked across the stage this spring to receive a pin signaling she had succeeded in Yavapai College nursing school – the two women who inspired her to get there – were waiting to share her joy. The tender moment was followed by hearty applause from an audience reacting to the news that the three women on the stage, Alexa, her mother, Jamie Elliott, and her grandmother, Gail McCracken, represented three generations of Yavapai College nursing graduates. Likely more than one audience member’s curiosity was piqued. There’s a story there. Tell us more.
YC President Dr. Lisa Rhine was among those intrigued. Immediately after the pinning ceremony, she signaled the marketing team to reach out to the grandmother-mother-daughter trio. Of course, we did. And after Alexa studied for and passed her national exam (securing her RN license), she, Gail, and Jamie gathered at the YC Verde Valley Campus in Clarkdale to share their generations of nursing story.
The story begins with Gail, a young woman who, not long after graduating from high school, was raising four children. A determined provider, Gail became a successful restauranteur in the Verde Valley but hoped her children would pursue more rewarding livelihoods, both intrinsically and monetarily. “If you don’t get a career, you’re going to have to wait tables and you hate that,” she recalled telling her daughters. “Do something you have a passion for. You can stop and have kids but if something ever happened you can support yourself.”
Jamie, a compassionate soul and stellar student with medical field aspirations since childhood, took her mom’s advice to heart, enrolling in nursing school at the YC Prescott campus immediately after graduating from Mingus Union High School in 1983. “I just knew I wanted to do it,” she said.
In two years, including weekends at home working in mom’s restaurant, the first nurse in the family was parlaying her in-demand skills at hospitals across the Southwest and enjoying off-duty adventures without ever breaking her bank account.
Now, at age 56, herself a mom of four and a grandmother with 37 years and counting of nursing experience, Jamie is directing her passion and skills into home healthcare. She operates a residential group home in Clarkdale where her daughter Alexa worked weekends while in nursing school. Jamie believes the call to nursing is instinctual, even maternal. “It’s a gift or it’s not. If you don’t have that gift of compassion and caring, nursing is not the place for you.”
Jamie’s older sister, Jody (Hilde) followed her sibling into YC nursing school, graduating in 1985. Five years later it was their mom’s turn. Having decided she, too, wanted to care for and help heal the sick and wounded Gail took night classes at YC’s Verde Valley Campus while still running the restaurant to get her prerequisites out of the way. She started nursing school at the Clarkdale campus in 1990. Daughters Jamie and Jody were by her side when she was pinned after her first year and then capped when she graduated in 1992.
Gail achieved her goal of becoming an IV specialist and she excelled in the profession for many years before leaving nursing to run a non-profit organization that provided medicine to people who couldn’t afford it. “I had a wonderful job. I hated leaving my nursing,” Gail said, explaining that she was driven to operate the Verde Valley Emergency Medication Assistance Program until a change in Medicare laws made it unnecessary.
Today, 78-year-old Gail is enjoying retirement surrounded by her large extended family – many of whom, like Jamie, Jody, and Alexa, are in healthcare or other nurturing fields like teaching. She helps Jamie at the group home and, Jamie asserts, has a full plate of side “projects” all involving caring assistance for neighbors, friends, and even strangers in need.
All of Gail’s children and grandchildren inherited her caring gene, including Alexa, the latest family nurse.
Like her grandmother, Alexa, now 32, opted for marriage, steady work, and motherhood before discovering she, too, was born with the heart of a nurse. “I never thought nursing wasn’t for me. Either you have the love and compassion in you or you don’t,” she said.
Following a divorce, Alexa returned to the Verde Valley with her daughter, Harper, and helped her mom with the home healthcare business. “I decided I wanted to go back to school and I finally had the opportunity,” she said, noting she was thrilled to be accepted into the nursing program at the YC Verde Valley campus on her first try.
Alexa’s mom, grandmother, and other family members helped make nursing school as a single mom less difficult by providing housing, childcare, a part-time job, and most of all, encouragement. “My boss was very accommodating,” Alexa said, smiling at her mom. “I am blessed. They’re pretty hard to disappoint,” she said, turning next to her grandmother, still beaming.
Alexa is starting a new job soon at Verde Valley Medical Center. She plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree with an eye to becoming a nurse practitioner, or maybe opening her own residential care home in competition with her mom, she said, laughing. “That’s the cool thing about nursing. It opens so many doors.”
As you might expect, 3-year-old Harper may be the family’s fourth-generation healthcare practitioner. With her toy medical kit, she likes to take temperatures, tend to animals and she’s even done some research in the form of asking a veterinarian she met about his job.
“My goal right now is to provide for my daughter and start paying for veterinary school apparently,” Alexa said.