Star Football Player Turned Nurse: This Is Why I Chose Masters in Nursing as My 2nd Degree
Roosevelt Davis, MSN, RN knows the value of working hard. After a successful college football career and a bachelor's degree in Political Science, Roosevelt decided to pursue his passion and complete a second degree - a master’s degree in nursing (MSN). Today, Roosevelt works as a Pediatric Cardiovascular ICU (CVICU) nurse who helps sick kids at the Children’s Hospital of Orange County.
Roosevelt comes from a big family of medical professionals. And, while they played a large role in guiding him towards the nursing field. Ultimately, it was his life experiences and passion for helping others that drove his decision to become a nurse.
With roots that go back to childhood, Roosevelt, a world-class athlete who could have played professional football after college, talked to us about his transition from sports to nursing, what it was like to earn a second degree in nursing and what drives him to be so selfless in the workforce.
When did you decide to pursue nursing and what influenced that choice?
Many of my family members are healthcare professionals and they really influenced my decision. My Nana [grandmother], has been a nurse for years and is very high up in the hospital system where she works. A couple of my aunts are also nurses. My dad has some experience on the pharmaceutical side and my step-mother is a nurse as well. Even my mom works in healthcare, in the business law side. So I have a lot of connections to different parts of healthcare through my family.
In the middle of my college career, I started thinking about what other careers there were outside of football.
My family was always there to guide me but, I never thought I wanted to be a nurse. If you would have asked me if I wanted to go into healthcare during my freshman year of college as a nurse, I would have told you that you were crazy!
What drives your passion for nursing?
I witnessed nurses care for my loved ones from a young age and they inspired me.
One of my first experiences was when my grandfather was in the hospital, very sick with colon cancer, and before he passed away I noticed how the nurses and the doctors were so attentive to me and my family.
A few years later, I had a close friend pass away from a car accident. At that time, being in the hospital setting was more of a love-hate relationship for me. I hated to be there because my family members and loved ones were in there fighting for their lives. But, I also started to think about the nurses who were caring for them while at the same time explaining everything so well to us, their family. Having a family member in the hospital well, It’s just hard. It’s hard for family members. And, the nurses were there for us every step of the way. It was then that I realized, nursing is more than a “job.” Nurses help so much.
I spent a lot of time with my grandma in the hospital back in 2018, before she passed away. By that time I was already involved with nursing and that experience really solidified the reason why I’m so passionate about nursing and about healthcare. It was amazing to see the nurses and doctors at work, they were just phenomenal in taking care of me and my family.
I was just happy to have a healthcare background and know certain things about her situation because it helped my family understand more.
Your Masters Degree in Nursing is your second degree - how does that work since you had a bachelor’s degree in another field? What prerequisites did you have to take for your MSN degree?
I literally did everything I needed to do full force to get my nursing degree - I didn’t space it out at all. While I was pursuing my MSN degree I was also taking UCLA classes to finish up my political science degree and still finishing up my last year of football. On top of all that, I was also going to the community college down the street at Santa Monica for nursing prerequisites. So, my journey was definitely strenuous.
For a nursing degree, you have to take required prerequisites,
- Inorganic and organic chemistry,
Looking back at it now, it was a lot of work. But, at the time, I just took every day as it came. I told myself, “you know what? Hey, do it now. One day at a time and walk out with a smile. I tried my best.”
As an athlete and person of color - what would you say to men, especially men of color, about starting a career in nursing?
Nursing, and healthcare positions are professions that aren’t traditionally even considered by most student athletes. And, in my experience, even less football players and men of color are exposed to the nursing realm. Like I said, I wasn’t even going to look into it until my mid-to-end of my college career.
- Only 12% of current nurses are male
- Only 9.9% of current nurses are african american
I encourage men, especially black men and people of color to 100% consider nursing as a career option.
Why do you think student athletes don’t typically pursue a degree in nursing?
Honestly, most athletes aren’t exposed to the health and sciences.
At UCLA, there’s a north and south side, you’ll usually find the student athletes around the south side of campus where the political science, arts, theater and statistics classes are. Classes that maybe aren’t as strenuous as the science majors.
I think a lot more student athletes should be aware of nursing and all the various career options that come along with it.
- Nursing salaries range from $70K-$150K (or more) per year.
- Nurses work in a variety of settings and can even operate their own practice, as nurse practitioners, or even work as traveling nurses.
Luckily, I had a counselor who was very encouraging of my aspirations in healthcare when I told him about my plans. He was never discouraging. He believed in me and he said he would do whatever he could to help along my way. It was awesome.
I think that every student athlete can benefit from somebody in their corner. I surely did. He was never like, “Oh, you’re a student athlete, you’re probably not smart enough for these classes.” That was never an issue. So, it was like, “Alright, man, treat it like another game. Just treat it as a challenge.” I think that was huge for me.
Why did you choose to specialize in pediatric cardiovascular ICU? It takes a special person to work with sick kids.
The funny thing is, working in pediatrics wasn’t my goal in nursing school. I knew I wanted to work in either the E.R. or ICU. And, I knew I wanted to be challenged and to work in an interesting specialty. To me, it didn’t matter how old the patient was, their color or race, it didn’t matter. I wanted to be able to help people as a whole and be challenged every day and work in a team setting. It wasn’t really about kids.
But, surprisingly, when I landed the pediatric ICU job, I was like, “well, you know, kids are awesome. I love kids!” So, I just took on that role full force and then I fell in love with it.
I love working with kids. They are resilient.
What does an average day in the life of a pediatric CVICU nurse look like for you?
Since I’m in critical care, I have a wide range of patients. Some patients may have had heart surgery a few weeks ago and are getting ready to go home. In that case, I would make sure they have their medications and that everything is set up for them to run smoothly when they go home.
In the same shift, I could have patients in critical condition. Not always in a bad way, either. They might be post-operation, maybe recovering from a heart operation of some sort. Some patients are slower to recover than others and will need a little bit more care than others. Not all of them are walking and talking.
It’s interesting being in pediatrics because I can have kids who are just a few days old in the ICU all the way up to 21-year-olds. So, you see some of everything, which is cool.
What keeps you inspired during a long, hard workday? What is your ‘why’ when the job gets seemingly too tough?
I’m not here to do this for me, I do this for them - my patients. And, if I don’t do it right, then who else is going to? The hospital can be a scary place, especially for kids. So, I have to make sure I do my job the best that I can for my patients to make sure they go home to mom and dad soon. I want them to be able to wake up, get breakfast or try to live a normal life.
I look at it like, I have to do this, it’s my duty to make sure things are right. I work night shift, so I have to stay vigilant and awake and on point for my patients and their families.
It’s hard for me to see families watch their kids in critical condition and knowing that they don’t understand everything that’s going on - they aren’t medical professionals and don’t know everything we know.
Some kids go home with ventilators and other equipment. But there’s a difference between being in a hospital and being home. So, that’s my why.
How has your football training influenced your success in school and in the nursing workforce?
Oh, 100-percent, football influenced my life positively- both, in the classroom and currently even in nursing right now.
In the classroom, it was like, a test was like game day. You have to go in and give it all you got.
And, in the nursing world, in our unit, we’re a team, just like in football. I know I’m not by myself. I’m one part of a big team of doctors, therapists, pharmacists, environmental services, and more. Everybody on the team is working together so the patient can have the best care possible. Without every member of the team playing their unique role, things don’t function right. And we don’t win. Effective patient care takes an entire team of professionals.
How has being an athlete, fitness and health influenced you as a nurse?
In high school, we won championships. I was the all-league all-star running back and I went on to play at UCLA football. I played there and “red shirted” my first year. We had some great years there. We beat USC three times, so that was amazing!
But, honestly I’ve been an athlete and focused on health my whole life - since childhood. I started playing football when I was about six-years-old and I’ve been active every single day since then. I played football, soccer, baseball, basketball and track. During high school, I decided to fully go into football and supplement it with track.
In college, I definitely learned how to care for my body, as far as recovery, preventing injury, helping my body to excel and to see how far I can strain my body. So, that’s where I learned a lot about my body - through my strength and conditioning coach mostly.
Learning about my body through football helped me to learn a lot about the human body in general. And, even though I wasn’t consciously trying to learn about the human body back then, I always had an interest in it.
Even now that I’m done with sports, I still stay fit. I enjoy working out and staying healthy. And I know what you put into your body is what’s going to show on the outside, as far as nutrition and physical fitness. They both work hand-in-hand. The body’s like a machine. Nursing has helped me understand that on an even deeper level.
Looking back, do you wish that you had asked more questions of trainers or kinesiologists or investigated the science of the body more?
Actually, yes. I do kind of wish I learned more about kinesiology and the anatomy of the body while I was in football. However, you’re focused so much on football and the game and trying to get your body right for the game, you don’t really want to lose focus on that.
So, I do wish I could have asked more questions and been more knowledgeable about my body and everything. Especially after my brother tore his MCL and ACL [ligaments] at the same time. He didn’t really come back the same. He’s in UCLA dental school now, so it turned out great for him. But after his injury, that’s when I realized, hey, football doesn’t last forever.
Also, I really started looking into the human body a lot more when I had some family members that passed away. My grandfather and my cousin, who was my age, he had sickle cell anemia and I didn’t really understand it. So it wasn’t just one thing, it was a multitude of things that influenced my interest in health.
Shifting to football, what was your position at UCLA?
I played running back and on special teams I played mainly kick-returner.
Did you entertain going to the NFL after college?
I actually was talking to multiple different recruiters specifically for the CFL, the Canadian Football League. So, yes, I was entertaining that a lot. My “pro day,” which is the day where you do a lot of testing - 40-yard dash, things like that - in front of NFL agents and scouts and CFL agents and scouts, was about two weeks before I got accepted into my Master’s program at UCLA.
I did really well on pro day. So, I had to make the decision to go either into the CFL or go into nursing school. For me, I talked to my parents and it became a no-brainer that I wanted something that would last me a lifetime where I could make a difference in the world. And, for me, that was nursing even though I’ll always love football!
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