A Lifechanging Operation: Saddleback Nursing Student Karen Mooney Student Spotlight

January 31, 2023
Saddleback Nursing student Karen Mooney

Karen Mooney never thought about becoming a nurse until she needed one during an emergency surgery. In a flash of insight, she knew that’s what she wanted to do–she was even more sure once she became a student in Saddleback College’s nursing program.

“I’ve very grateful that I came to this,” says Karen, who has been a nurse at Saddleback Medical Center in Laguna Hills since 2008. “I can’t imagine a better job.”

Before starting her nursing career, Karen worked as a secretary for the Long Beach Unified School District for 18 years. After she and her husband, Michael, moved to Rancho Santa Margarita, she decided not to return to her job after giving birth to her second child.

Then came an emergency surgery on her neck in 2004—she was terrified she might not wake up from the operation. The nurses and doctors reassured her that all would go well.

“I was recuperating from the surgery and I looked at my husband and I said, ‘I think maybe I’d like to become a nurse,’” Karen says. “It put it in my mind that this is a direction I could look at.”

She says she had never considered being a nurse before but was so grateful for the care she received that she felt a calling.

“Nursing had absolutely not been something that I had ever been interested in,” she says. “People had brought it up to me and I was like, ‘I don’t like the sight of blood. I don’t want to do anything like that. It doesn’t sound like me at all.’”

After deciding to pursue a nursing career, Karen gathered up her transcripts from her time at Long Beach City College, where she had earned an associate degree, and met with a counselor at Saddleback College. She learned that the program is rigorous and competitive, but she wasn’t dissuaded. After completing her prerequisite classes, Karen entered the nursing program in 2005.

“Once I started in the nursing program, I definitely fell in love with nursing,” she said. “Once I started on the path, I never gave it a second thought.”

She said she always felt supported at Saddleback College, even as she juggled going to classes while raising two small children.

“There were times that I needed to go into professors’ offices to ask questions and they were more than willing to let me bring my children with me,” she said. “Nobody ever hesitated to help me answer questions, no matter how long it took.”

She also has high praise for the faculty and staff in the nursing program.

“It’s a tight-knit family,” Karen says. “They know how hard it is. They find out who you are and how best to support you.”

The nursing program at Saddleback College was established in 1971, is a two-year accredited program, and boasts NCLEX exam pass rates that are above 95%.

The demand for registered nurses is also high, particularly because many left the field following the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ employment projections for 2021-2031, the registered nursing workforce is expected to grow by 6% over the next decade. The Bureau also projects 203,200 openings for registered nurses each year through 2031 in the United States.

Aware of the high demand for nurses, Karen said the faculty at Saddleback College’s program worked particularly closely with students when they were preparing to graduate. In her final summer before she graduated in December 2008, Karen participated in an externship program at Saddleback Medical Center. She was paid for nine weeks of work as a nurse, working under the mentorship of a staff nurse. At the end of the summer, she was offered a job at the hospital when she graduated – and she’s stayed there since.

Karen works in the medical surgical oncology unit at the hospital, which treats a wide variety of patients, including cancer patients. She says she has overcome her aversion to seeing blood and enjoys caring for people.

“The nursing aspect of it is the ability to make people feel better physically as well as emotionally, and be there to support them,” she said. “A lot of it is the detective work – what’s going on with the patient and what’s happening with them. A nurse can pick up something that a physician wouldn’t pick up, and then we can alert the physician.”

Karen looks forward to going to work every day and is glad she can now mentor current Saddleback College nursing students as she was mentored.

“I find nursing to be so fulfilling,” she says. “I’m so blessed that the last 14 years I’ve been able to do this as a career.”