When Frank Baez first stepped into New York University’s Langone Tisch Hospital, he was hired to work as a janitor cleaning patients’ rooms.
Baez was in his teens at the time, and could hardly speak English. He had moved to New York from the Dominican Republic at age 15 with his mother, Good Morning America reports, and got the cleaning job to help support his family.
But on Monday, 29-year-old Baez graduated as a nurse from the same institution at which he once worked as a custodian.
“It was a very intense program, I’ll tell you that. It was a lot of work,” Baez told CNN of earning his nursing degree from NYU’s Rory Meyers College of Nursing.
“It was worth it; it paid off at the end. Here I am now, a graduated nurse.”
After working as a janitor in NYU’s hospital, Baez became interested in the medical field and wanted to continue working in the industry. He applied for a job as a patient transporter, taking people to surgeries and tests in the hospital.
Natalya Pasklinsky, the director of Simulation Learning at NYU’s nursing school, was working as a registered nurse at NYU’s hospital at the time. She told CNN that Baez was “always compassionate to patients and families” on the job.
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“He would ask the nurses questions about patient care and what it takes to become a nurse. My colleagues and I encouraged him to follow his dream,” she said.
It was through these work experiences that Baez realized he wanted to go to university to learn more about healthcare. He went to Hunter College to get his bachelor’s degree in Spanish literature with a minor in biological sciences, CNN reports.
“I was hoping that I would be able to care for patients in Spanish,” he told the outlet. “I wanted to work with under-served populations.”
After graduating college Baez got another job at NYU, this time at NYU Langone Orthopedic Hospital working alongside nurses. His career ambitions became even more clear.
Baez applied and was accepted into NYU’s nursing program, and he continued to work full-time during his first semester.
Now, as the first person in his family to graduate from university, Baez is “very excited” to start working as a nurse and inspire others.
“This is what really drove me; the fact that I wanted to have a career and I wanted to be successful,” he told ABC News.
“I wanted to be a nurse who is helping others and just like my coworkers do at work, they advocate and they inspire me… I want to carry on that.