At 17, he was a janitor at NYU. Now, he's an NYU nursing graduate.

When Frank Baez was 17, he took a job at New York University's Langone Tisch Hospital as a janitor to help his family. On Monday, about 12 years later, Baez graduated from the same college with a nursing degree.

Make every week 'Nurses Week': 5 ways to recognize nurses year-round

From janitor to nurse

Baez moved with his family from the Dominican Republic to the United States in 2004, when he was 15. To help pay the bills, Baez in 2006 started a janitorial job at NYU, and that's where he decided he wanted to become a nurse.

"While working [at NYU] with the nurses, I realized I wanted to be one of them," he said. "I learned how much they advocate for their patients and the passion they have for their job."

According to Nataly Pasklinsky, director of simulation learning at the NYU nursing school, Baez "would ask nurses questions about patient care and what it takes to become a nurse." She said, "My colleagues and I encouraged him to follow his dream."

Baez eventually left the janitorial job and, after getting his associate's degree, he went to Hunter College and received a bachelor's degree in Spanish literature with a minor in biological sciences, becoming the first person in his family to graduate from college. "I was hoping that I would be able to care for patients in Spanish," he said, adding, "I wanted to work with under-served populations."

After he graduated from Hunter, Baez got a job as a unit clerk at NYU Langone Orthopedic Hospital. At age 29, he enrolled in NYU's 15-month accelerated program at the Rory Meyers College of Nursing. On Monday—about 12 years after he had started working at NYU as a janitor—he graduated from the school's accelerated nursing program.

Pasklinsky said the accelerated program "is extremely rigorous," but Baez "flew through it with flying colors." She added, "The way he interacted with patients, to me showed a lot of compassion. In my mind, he's a star. I think he's going to be a fantastic nurse."

Baez said he was "never an A student," but he "studied a lot and worked a lot," graduating with a 3.6 GPA.

"Of course there were times I doubted myself, but then I felt that I wanted to do something more for myself, that I deserved better, that I wanted to continue to move forward and grow and go on with my life," Baez said. "What I did was, I never gave up" (Keating, People, 5/22; Williams, CNN, 5/22; Heller, Business Insider, 5/22).

5 ways to recognize nurses year-round

National Nurses Week, our annual traditional time to recognize and celebrate nurses, just passed. But don't just recognize your nurses during Nurses Week—show your staff how much you value their professional work and appreciate their daily contributions regularly and often.

Sign up for our June 19 webconference to learn 5 ways to extend the spirit of nurses' week all year round.

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