In tragedy, 16-year-old Steven Barboa found his calling.
Two years ago, his cousin, Carlos, was battling cancer. Sometimes, Steven would sit with him during treatments.
“The nurses would be there,” Steven, now 18, said, “just to be there. I could see the smile he had on his face. There’s no better feeling than to see your patient smile.”
And although his cousin eventually succumbed to his cancer at 26, Barboa, young as he was then (and now), already knew what he wanted to do with his life.
He wanted to be a nurse.
And so in less than a month, Barboa, a senior infielder for the Atrisco Heritage baseball team, will graduate from Albuquerque’s CEC nursing program, the first step toward his dream of becoming a full-fledged RN.
“He amazes me,” said Caitey Amberg, a pediatric nurse in the intensive care unit at Presbyterian Hospital who also serves as an onsite nursing instructor affiliated with the CEC program. She oversees students, incuding Barboa, during clinical work at various sites around the city.
“I’ve really been able to see him grow as a student nurse, and as a person,” she said.
Barboa joined the CEC program in August 2016, the start of his junior year at Atrisco Heritage. He is about to complete his fifth and final semester in the program. He is on track to graduate early next month and plans to take his boards to become an LPN (Licensed Practical Nurse) sometime in June.
Amberg said only about 10 percent of the students who enroll in the CEC’s program are male.
“Male nurses in general is a low percentage,” Amberg said. “To have a teenage male nurse is even rarer.”
As he thought back to his cousin, Barboa said he deduced quickly how personable nursing could ease a patient’s emotional burden.
It struck a chord.
“It was a night and day difference when he had a good nurse and a bad nurse,” he said.
For the last 20 months, Barboa has been performing a juggling act. And his days can be grueling.
“That’s been one of the hardest things,” Barboa said. “You have to be super organized.”
Twice a week, he spends four to five hours in the early morning on site doing clinical work. This week, he was at the HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital, serving as a clinical team leader. The duties are relatively routine: taking a patient’s pulse, blood pressure, temperature, etc., sometimes passing medicine, plus various other assignments.
The other three days, there are lengthy classroom sessions at the CEC, located near Albuquerque High.
“All the stuff you learn in the classroom, it really ties into what you do in the hospitals,” he said.
He doesn’t even arrive at Atrisco Heritage until the late morning. There is copious homework on both fronts, and somewhere in there he still puts in his time for the Jaguars’ baseball team, where he has been a varsity player for four seasons. Atrisco Heritage, currently in last place in the District 4-6A standings with two weeks left in the regular season, is going to have to fight hard to qualify for the postseason.
“Most adults aren’t doing what he does,” an admiring Atrisco Heritage coach Chris Trujillo said. “And he’s done a tremendous job balancing baseball and his (other) commitments.”
Which is why, Barboa said, he cherishes his time around his baseball teammates.
“This,” he said, “is my time off, my time to relax and have fun with my friends.”
After becoming an LPN, Barboa plans to attend CNM and UNM over the next four years to achieve his dream of being an RN.
And he knows he has adopted the proper approach to make this a career.
“A big part of it is how you interact with the patient,” he said. “You see the pain, and you can put them in a different place, a happy place.
“I wanted to get a feel for it, to make sure this is the way I wanted to go. Now that I’ve gotten the hang of it, I love it.”
Amberg said she has witnessed Barboa’s transformative people skills.
“He amazes me, his ability to connect with the patients,” she said. “Whether it’s a 2-year-old or a 62-year-old, he is building a bond that not very many 18-year-olds can do.”
Not that Barboa feels like he’s 18. Ask Barboa, and he said he scarcely feels like a teenager anymore.
“Definitely,” he said with a laugh. “It’s changed me into an adult. You have to become an adult in this program.”