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Careers in education and foreign service lead two brothers to nursing degrees

Brothers Will and Christian Hayes with their cousin, Corinne Dorsey.
Brothers Will and Christian Hayes with their cousin, Corinne Dorsey, a longtime nurse and VCU alumna. (Photo courtesy VCU School of Nursing)

Before brothers Will and Christian Hayes entered nursing, they had 10-year careers behind them dedicated to the service of others. Their combined experience includes international aid research, education, volunteer work for at-risk populations and EMT training.

The Richmond natives hold undergraduate degrees from Virginia Tech and will graduate Saturday from the VCU School of Nursing’s accelerated bachelor’s degree program. Both will start jobs at VCU Health in intensive care after graduation.

Will, 34, worked for the U.S. Agency for International Development and private organizations as an international researcher in Afghanistan and sub-Saharan Africa after graduating from Virginia Tech in 2006. His knowledge of international studies and French led him to travel to more than 30 countries conducting surveys on the need and outcome of aid programs to increase educational access to impoverished girls, sanitation and resource access.

His interactions with people facing hardship — including a Kenyan mother residing in Africa’s largest slum and a Syrian refugee and her children — began to push Will toward nursing.

“The stories of these individuals will stick with me forever,” he said. “I just realized nursing would allow me to be more hands-on with people at their weakest to help them meet their basic needs. I had friends who were nurses and after talking to them, I decided I would enjoy the challenge of combining science with compassion.”

Nursing also provides a more stable lifestyle for Will, who did not want to continue a career requiring constant travel.

Similarly, Christian, 31, who previously taught English at Matoaca High School in Chesterfield County, said that nursing would allow him to help people who are physically vulnerable.

“I enjoyed imparting students with reading and writing skills to build their future, and relating to them, but had a desire to be with people in times of conflict,” Christian said. “When I was teaching, it dawned on me that I wanted a more tangible way to assist my students and the community.”

The stories of these individuals will stick with me forever. I just realized nursing would allow me to be more hands-on with people at their weakest to help them meet their basic needs.

While teaching, Christian had also considered becoming an ordained minister and was inspired by volunteer work at shelters in New York for his campus ministry, which opened his eyes to other experiences.

“The work showed me what a good life I have had and exposed me to challenges that I haven’t had to face in life, from poverty to addiction, which are factors you are often exposed to in health care,” Christian said. “But if you told me I was going to be a nurse at 20 years old, I had zero idea.”

Before enrolling at VCU, Christian decided to test the potential of a career in health care by shadowing the Tuckahoe Volunteer Rescue Squad and training as an emergency medical technician.

“Training as an EMT was a way to get my feet wet and to begin the process of changing careers,” Christian said. “I discovered that the learning process, and the health science behind it, was interesting.”

In choosing nursing, the brothers are walking in the footsteps of their cousin, Corinne Dorsey, a 1965  alumna of the VCU School of Nursing, then part of Richmond Professional Institute. Dorsey recently started an endowment to provide scholarships for students who, like her cousins, have chosen nursing as a second career. The scholarship will be awarded to students in the School of Nursing’s accelerated bachelor’s degree program.

“I’m proud of them and I just believe in the value of studying nursing,” Dorsey said.

Christian said that anyone who is considering a career change should take time to explore their options.

“If you have an idea, even if it’s just a daydream, you have to test it,” he said. “You never know where it might lead.”