Our Nurses Know: Balance
When Chanda and Brandon Perry decided to go back to school, they knew it would test their mettle. The married couple had spent more than a decade working automotive and clerical jobs to support their family, but neither had what they considered to be a “career.” That wasn’t a major issue until Michigan became ground zero for the Great Recession.
It was 2009, the Perrys were raising three young daughters, the economy was in shambles and jobs that paid a living wage were evaporating.
So the couple went into problem-solving mode, foreshadowing their future in nursing, where problem-solving skills are the calling card of excellent nursing practice.
“Early in our marriage, Brandon said, ‘I want us to figure out what our purpose is as a family,’” said Chanda Perry, now an emergency department nurse at Michigan Medicine. “That purpose turned out to be nursing.”
The call to nursing
When the Perrys’ children were small, Chanda ran an in-home daycare and cared for kids with various needs.
“I took children in from homeless shelters,” she said. “I also had a child with special needs, one who was on the autism spectrum, one with a history of epilepsy. I had to learn a lot of things so I could support them and their parents, many of whom were single working moms.”
Brandon, meanwhile, worked as a transporter at University Hospital, where he held a part-time position in addition to working at an automotive plant.
“I started watching ID badges at work, trying to see who’s who,” Brandon said. “I saw that nurses did so many different and wonderful things.”
A long road ahead
Before they could enter into the profession, there was a difficult road ahead of them. Brandon still had to get his GED, then handle his science prerequisites before he could apply to the U-M School of Nursing. Chanda already had a bachelor’s degree, so she immediately began the science prerequisites, then entered U-M’s accelerated BSN program in 2011.
While Chanda committed full-time to the academic program, Brandon continued working full-time outside of school.
It was a trying time, but their children (now aged 25, 18 and 15), and their purpose as a family remained their motivation.
Spreading motivation — and music
Early in their marriage, the Perrys spent several years as motivational speakers, traveling the country to speak at churches and schools. They would talk about setting goals, making good choices and staying connected to support systems.
Similar uplifting messages flow through Brandon’s music. He has a gospel rap album and raps about his experiences and his faith.
On Nov. 6, he even performed for his nursing classmates. Brandon said he looks forward to getting back to music when he finishes school: “I haven’t had time for music lately, but I’m going to do one more album after I graduate.”
Creating a support system
Today, Chanda said she loves helping Michigan Medicine patients navigate life-changing events.
“My mom’s family is from Selma, Alabama,” Chanda said. “Often, there was nowhere for her or her community members to go for adequate health care.”
That experience gave Chanda a clear view of the importance of a diverse nursing workforce.
“When you are dealing with things that are hard, you want to find people who are like you,” she said. “That’s what support groups are all about — and what nursing can be all about.”
The Perrys are heartened by the U-M Nursing School’s recent effort to support and recruit minority students who have taken non-traditional paths to nursing.
Chanda noted that minority students often need unique kinds of support.
“Minority students are often first generation students,” she said. “Students feel like maybe this is too much for them, but really it’s a program that’s difficult for everyone. I hope that I can help them navigate through some of those challenges.”
Vision becomes reality
Brandon and Chanda celebrated 20 years of marriage in November. Despite their obvious differences — her thoughtful calm to his kinetic energy, her natural reserve to his exuberance — the Perrys radiate the love and commitment they have for each other.
Brandon attributed the success of their marriage to their flexibility, their shared goals and their faith.
Such a balance has helped them get closer to their overall goal: Brandon recently completed his clinical rotation with a focus on community health and is set to graduate in April.
Indeed, the Perrys’ vision for the future is becoming reality.