Rosa Ruvalcaba Serna, a UAMS nursing student, writes movingly in Glamour about her life and advocacy work. Serna was brought to the U.S. from Mexico at age 6 and later received DACA status and became the first in her family to graduate from high school and the first to receive an associates degree. She entered nursing school only to find out that she couldn’t sit for a licensure exam because of her immigration status.
A week after my white coat ceremony, my program director gave me two choices: withdraw from the program, or keep studying with no promise that I’d ever work as a nurse close to home. Go home, they urged me. Think it over.
But I’d already spent a week thinking. Everything I’d worked for had led me to this point. God wouldn’t have brought me this far if this wasn’t the right career for me, I thought. “I’m staying,” I announced. Nursing was my calling, and I wasn’t going to give it up just because I was born in Mexico.
Still, achieving my dream would require more than just self-belief. I had been involved with my school’s Student Nurses’ Association chapter as a representative, coordinating volunteers as well as volunteering myself. Later that same month, in October 2017, I attended the state convention to spread the word about my situation. Before I knew it, I’d been elected to the Arkansas Nursing Students’ Association board of directors.
That gave me a golden opportunity to share my story. I explained to my fellow students how my dreams had been snatched away and how Arkansas barred Dreamers from becoming nurses. Many of my fellow representatives were shocked to hear about the plight of DACA students. Over the next few months, we prepared a resolution to present at the National Student Nurses’ Association convention. Soon I found myself in front of a microphone at Nashville, asking thousands of my fellow students and faculty for their support. As I spoke, the room fell silent. I’ve never been a public speaker, but I did my best, speaking straight from the heart. My voice cracked, and I felt tears running down my cheeks. But I kept speaking my truth.
By the time I finished, there was a roaring in my ears. I turned away, panicking, thinking I’d failed. But my fellow board members told me to look back, and I saw the whole ballroom was on their feet, applauding. It was like nothing I’d seen before, and when we finally voted, the resolution passed unanimously.
A newspaper story on Serna’s plight caught the attention of first-term Rep. Megan Godfrey (D-Springdale), who worked with Serna to pass a law that allows DACA recepients to become nurses. Benji Hardy covered a House committee hearing where Serna testified.