2023 nursing graduate Carmen Smith was inspired by nurses caring for her baby brother ‣ Laurel Ridge Community College
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2023 nursing graduate Carmen Smith was inspired by nurses caring for her baby brother

Smith with diploma
Carmen Smith graduating from Laurel Ridge in 2023.

2023 Laurel Ridge graduate Carmen Smith was inspired by two family members to get her nursing degree. First, she watched her premature baby brother, Sebastian, being carefully tended by nurses. Second, she saw her mother, Ali Smith, earn her nursing diploma from Laurel Ridge in 2020.

Today, Smith is working in a surgical unit at Winchester Medical Center.

“We have post-op patients, we get some overflow from the other units, we have a lot of orthopedic patients, a lot of cardiac,” said Smith, who graduated from James Wood High School in 2020. “It’s a great floor to learn on because we have so much variety.”

Born 2½ months early, Sebastian spent 99 days in the neonatal intensive care units (NICU) at Winchester Medical Center and the University of Virginia Medical Center. Right then, in seventh grade, Smith knew she wanted to work as a nurse in the neonatal intensive care unit.

“I was in there a lot, watching him, watching the nurses around him interact with him and take care of him,” said Smith. “I decided I wanted to be a NICU nurse. I’m working my way up to there – got to get the experience first.

Smith posing with her mother

Carmen Smith at her graduation with her mother, Ali Smith, and one of her four younger brothers.

“My mom is doing the same exact thing as me. She worked on the surgical floor for two years, and now she’s in the NICU. For both of us, it was Sebastian and everything that happened with him that made us want to do it.”

Sebastian, recently turned 9 and is doing well. She has four more younger brothers, ages 2 to 19.

Smith said she had several options when it came to choosing a nursing program, but Laurel Ridge quickly rose to the top.

“My mom was so happy with her experience at Laurel Ridge, she wanted me to come here, too,” she said.

Professors Elizabeth “Liza” Marshall and Kathryn Regula were favorites of Smith’s.

“They really helped and were really supportive,” she said.

Currently working 12-hour night shifts, Smith hopes to complete her bachelor’s degree through an online program at the University of Virginia. Eventually, she would like to be a neonatal nurse practitioner.

Smith benefited from a Navy Federal Credit Union Scholarship. Financial aid covered the remainder of her tuition.

“I didn’t owe anything,” said Smith, who worked at Target and Starbucks while in school. “By going to Laurel Ridge, I was able to stay at home and do everything I needed to do. I got a kick start on life.

“I had a great experience in the nursing program. Everybody that was in it with me, we all worked together. The professors were very, very helpful and supportive of us. It was just such a mix of different people in the program. With my being right out of high school, having people of all ages with me in class kind of helped me develop some communications skills – nursing involves working with a lot of older adults and people of all ages. My older classmates shared their experiences with us.”

Learn more about the nursing program at laurelridge.edu/nursing.

Laurel Ridge Community College was known as Lord Fairfax Community College until June 2022. For consistency purposes, the college will be referenced as Laurel Ridge going forward.