Student Spotlight: Trading Figure Skates for Scrubs

US Nats 10-Spokane WashingtonMarissa Spector never envisioned becoming a nurse.

Her childhood dream, like many, was more romantic than practical—from the time she was two years old she fantasized about becoming a figure skater. She got on the ice not long after she took her first steps. Marissa said one of her most vivid memories is of being four years old and her father holding her up as they skated around the rink together.  Her fascination and passion for skating blossomed from there. 

Marissa, a second semester BSN student, recalls watching the 1998 Olympics and seeing Tara Lipinski grace the ice in such a “pretty dress.” In that moment, at six years old, Marissa decided she would become an ice skater and be the one to wear those pretty dresses.

Marissa pursued her dream fervently. At age nine Marissa along with her parents made the commitment for her to go as far as she could in skating. When her family moved from Georgia to Alabama in 2002 for her father’s work, her parents began homeschooling her to ensure she had enough time for skating.

“My parents were incredibly supportive throughout the whole process,” Marissa said. “My dad even worked extra jobs to pay for lessons.”

When Marissa was 12, she began pairs skating. After she and her partner of four years, Alex Darnell, parted ways in 2008 she found a new partner, Chris Nolan. Chris and Marissa had only been skating together for six months before they qualified for nationals.

“Most pairs have been skating for years together before they have an opportunity like that,” Marissa said. “It was a dream come true.”

Chris and Marissa qualified for nationals in November of 2008 and were invited in August of 2009 to be a part of Team USA in an international competition in Montreal. The pair also competed at nationals in Cleveland, Ohio in 2009 and Spokane, Wash. in 2010. Chris and Marissa ranked 11 in the nation in the 2010 nationals and finished third overall in their region for their short program at the 2010 U.S. Eastern Sectionals.

When Chris left skating in January of 2010, Marissa was faced with a difficult choice. Should she seek out a new partner and begin training for the 2014 Olympics or leave skating behind? At the time, Marissa was a third-semester high school sophomore and was becoming frustrated that skating was delaying her academic progression. She decided she couldn’t justify another four years of skating—she was too eager to go to school.

In 2010, Marissa left the world of figure skating behind and pursued her GED at Jefferson State Community College in Birmingham. After completing her GED, students were encouraged to take a trial college course to narrow their focus.  During that time, Marissa overheard a former classmate rave about how much she loved nursing school, “this career is recession-proof!” her classmate boasted, “there is so much opportunity.”

Marissa was intrigued and decided to try a course in Anatomy and Physiology to see if she liked it – she fell in love. 

Marissa wanted to pursue nursing but had little confidence in her academic ability. In the brief time she attended school she was deemed a distraction due to her need to leave classes early to go to the rink. While homeschooling allowed Marissa more time for skating, it put her far behind her peers.  A good friend, Anita Saxena, a graduate from the UAB School of Optometry, encouraged Marissa to give nursing a try.

“Anita and her husband, Scott Cane, served as my mentors.” Marissa said. “They tutored me in nearly every class I took.”

While at Jeff State Marissa also tested the waters of different health professions to see if anything else fit, shadowing a physical therapist before meeting UAB cardiologist Dr. Alan Gertler. Throughout her courses, Marissa said she developed a passion for cardiology. She arranged to shadow Dr. Gertler and his nurse practitioner, UAB School of Nursing instructor Jody Gilchrist,from The Kirklin Clinic at Acton Road.

“They had a huge impact on me.” Marissa said. “I don’t think they know just how much they shaped my career path.”

With the same determined mindset of the four year old who took to the ice, Marissa, now 21, dove head first into the world of nursing. Marissa’s passion for science combined with her desire to help people set her on that track.

US Nats 09 short-Cleveland OH“Nursing found me, I didn’t set out to be a nurse,” Marissa said. “The pieces just fell into place.” 

By 2012 Marissa had completed over 200 shadow hours and all of her pre-requisite courses and applied to the UAB School of Nursing. Marissa said she chose UAB because she knew she wanted to become a BSN-prepared nurse.

“When I received my acceptance letter it was like I was going to nationals all over again, that feeling I would get right before I got on the ice: overwhelming joy, nerves, excitement,” she said. “All of the good stuff.”

Marissa said she does not intend to go back to competitive skating. She views her skating career as an entirely different chapter of her life and is moving forward. However, she does have the occasional chance to skate in her free time. Over the 2013 holiday break , she and her first pairs partner, Alex Darnell, took to the ice at the Pelham Civic Complex and tried a couple lifts, “I still got it!,” she laughed confidently. 

She added that in this new chapter of her life, skating as a hobby is enough.

“Nursing is my new calling,” Marissa said confidently.

She envisions herself as a cardiac care nurse, and has hopes of becoming a nurse practitioner.

“I want go as far as I can,” Marissa said. “Just like I did with my skating.”

When asked where she wants to practice, she quickly responded, “UAB of course, it’s the best!”