By Anna Hoffman
Sometimes nursing is a unique gift inherent to an individual.
Sometimes the nursing spirit is inherited through compassion and ability displayed by someone else.
Sometimes the desire to make a difference sets two people on the same path resulting in a life together.
But rarely are these unique stories found all in one place … until now. At the University of Florida College of Nursing, a husband-and-wife couple and mother-and-son duo are making Gator Nursing history as current students in the Doctor of Nursing Practice, or DNP, and Bachelor of Science in Nursing, or BSN, programs.
From Nigeria to Gator Nursing
Beryl and Moses Ekakitie met in the early 1990s and fell in love caring for the same patient. Moses was in medical school completing his internship at the University of Lagos in Nigeria, while Beryl was completing her studies as a registered nurse.
They married, had four children and ran a general practice clinic in Nigeria for 20 years. Moses was head physician and Beryl was the head nurse, taking care of a variety of patients across the lifespan. But it was their desire to provide better educational opportunities for their four children that led them to the United States, and they ended up pursuing advanced degrees themselves as well. They are now both in the psychiatric mental health track in the DNP program at the College of Nursing.
Moses said the one thing they did not encounter much in their practice in Nigeria was mental health patients, which is what motivated him to specialize in mental health in the DNP program.
“We saw few mental health cases at our practice in Nigeria because of the stigma that is attached to needing psychiatric help and the size of our facility,” he said. “We could not isolate patients, so they were afraid of being seen. I did travel to see some in their home, but that is what motivated me to be a mental health nurse practitioner. I’ve seen it all except mental health, so I wanted to do something a bit new for me but also where the demand is high.”
As the children grew up and started entering high school, Beryl and Moses decided it was time to make the move to the U.S. Beryl moved in June 2012, took the NCLEX-RN exam and secured a job and home. Moses and the children followed the following March.
Beryl had no trouble earning her BSN through an online program, but Moses tried for three years to take the board exam and get into a residency program to be a medical doctor in the states. When that did not work, he chose nursing.
But not only are the two in the DNP program together; they also work together at North Florida Evaluation and Treatment Center in Gainesville.
“From the beginning, we have always been together,” Beryl said. “From when we were back home in practice together. Even now when we are working together. People ask us how. When we are at home, we’re husband and wife, but when we’re at work, we’re employees. It is the same way in school.”
The journey has not always been easy, though, as the Ekakities encountered many obstacles, but the one thing they always maintained is their focus.
“The most important thing is to remain focused. There were a lot of things I wanted to do but couldn’t because of my accent and color of my skin. It was glaring. I couldn’t help these barriers in as much as I couldn’t change the color of my skin or my accent. I just remained focused and knew the barrier would be there for a while but not forever.”
Moses said he benefits from having an established nurse to study with.
“My background is purely the medical side, and the way we are taught is not necessarily how nurses are taught,” he said. “So I had to learn a lot of things from Beryl, like seeing things from the perspective of a nurse and seeing the patient as a whole.”
The Ekakities will graduate in May 2021. They have served as role models who value education for their children, and it has paid off. One is a physician, one is a nurse, one is in medical student at the UF College of Medicine and one is an undergraduate at the University of South Florida.
“We believe that America is the land of opportunity,” Moses said. “It is open to the individual who can apply themselves appropriately. One thing that doesn’t change irrespective of your work or career line when you are coming to the United States is that it’s always good to go back to school, no matter your age. Once you have a degree or license from here, the sky is the limit.”
An Unquenched Passion for Nursing
The Zolteks are an engineering family — grandfather, father, mother and son. Until the youngest son, Jacob, broke the family tradition and decided to pursue nursing at the UF College of Nursing.
It was at Jacob’s White Coat Ceremony in 2019 when his mother, Kimberly, realized she had ignored her passion for health care all her life and wanted to do something about it.
“When I attended Jake’s White Coat Ceremony and saw him in his College of Nursing scrubs going to class, it re-enflamed that passion and interest I always felt for health care my whole life,” Kimberly said. “I reached a point when I knew it was now or never, so I followed in my son’s footsteps.”
The mother-son duo are students in the College of Nursing’s Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing and traditional Bachelor of Science in Nursing programs, respectively. Kimberly earned master’s and bachelor’s degrees in environmental engineering from UF in the ‘90s, her husband was a UF engineering professor and their oldest son, John, is on the path to earn two UF engineering degrees. Although she had a successful career as an environmental engineer, she said she never lost interest in her love for health care.
“I can never be sorry I spent so much time and energy on engineering because it led me to my husband and my two sons,” she said.
Jacob works as a patient care assistant at the UF Health burn intensive care unit. He said his mother influenced his decision to pursue nursing.
“One of the reasons I went into nursing was because of my mother,” Jacob said. “Growing up, she always displayed that care and concern for others. I guess it wore off on me too. She taught me that I should not do something if it’s not what I want to do.”
After Jacob graduates in the spring of 2021, he wants to work at UF Health as a registered nurse to gain experience before applying for the DNP program. After he earns his DNP degree, he wants to be a travel nurse.
Kimberly also has plans to become a nurse practitioner, and she thinks she may be interested in being a research nurse in oncology clinical trials, which would allow her to have patient interaction while also still using her “research muscles.”
Kimberly jokes that since Jacob is ahead of her in the program, it is intimidating to ask her son for help explaining things. She often has to remind him that she helped him with his own math homework growing up, but she is also grateful to have him as a resource.
Although they laugh and tease one another, it is clear their love and admiration for each other runs deep, and they are both grateful they followed their hearts and became Gator Nurses.
“When you have an unquenched passion for something, it really wears on you,” Kimberly said. “I am so happy and privileged to finally be following my dream to be a nurse. It is an intense program, and for good reason. If you are in the hospital and you have a Gator Nurse, you know you’re going to be OK.”