Age is just a number for Mariea Gregory. It does not define her, rather it presses her on to bigger and better dreams.
Gregory admits that she has been blessed her whole life. She was raised by good parents, met and married her one true love, had two wonderful children and a grandson, as well as a lifelong career in nursing that not only sustained her, but also fulfilled her. However, like everyone, Gregory’s life was filled with many of life’s challenges and rewards.
In 2001, Gregory was diagnosed with cancer. Going through treatment, she began to truly examine what she wanted in life. The outcome of her cancer treatment was far better than was predicted. However, another occurrence of possible cancer made Gregory realize that, to keep going each day meant, she that had to focus on one-day-at-a-time. “I would wake up and know that for that day, that one day, I was alright,” she said. “Living with energy, enthusiasm and appreciation motivates me now.”
After beating cancer and with a 40 plus year nursing career under her belt, Gregory hung up her scrubs in 2010 for a life of relaxation. It did not last long. “I found retirement lacking in stimulation,” she said. “Actually my dog and my husband got tired of me finding things for them to do!”
So, in 2015, Gregory reentered the workplace as a staff nurse at a multidisciplinary clinic at a Duke Ambulatory Care Clinic. She works with nephrologists, trauma surgeons, interventional radiology services, advanced, and general surgery. The clinic also supports the liver, kidney, pancreas and abdominal transplant services. Gregory works to support these providers with their pre and post-surgery patients. Although Gregory holds a diploma in nursing, a BS degree from Mount Olive College, and an MBA from Pfeiffer University, a stipulation in her new hiring contract requires her to obtain her RN to BSN within five years.
Obtaining her BSN has been on Gregory’s bucket list for quite a while, but other priorities always seemed to get in the way. “When I was younger, being a mother was more important than earning an extra degree,” she admits.
To fulfill the requirements of her new hiring contract, Gregory enrolled in the University of Mount Olive’s RN to BSN program in January of 2020. She graduated on Saturday.
Speaking about the program, Gregory said, “It is motivating, it is challenging, and I have had the pleasure of learning from really wonderful instructors who have encouraged me. I have struggled at times, and have cried a lot, but the support of my family has pushed me and motivated me to succeed.”
Some people have called Gregory crazy for returning to work after retirement. Even more have questioned her reasoning for going back to college. Gregory’s response is, “Why not! My employer helps me financially, and supports the mission of education. Ageism is a real psychological barrier. It needs to be addressed for what it is. Why do we question anyone for doing something they want to do, even if it is getting a degree at a later age? I am doing this because I would rather do this than do nothing. I did not enjoy retirement and this has made me work a little harder at improving myself! It is what I wanted to do for myself.”
Gregory wants to continue working until “SHE” decides to stop. Her advice for others considering going back to school is, “Just do it! Workplaces support these programs. Some people seem to think once you have finished whatever it took to get you started is enough. It is if you are satisfied. I remember thinking that I would never earn my MBA, but I did. My BSN was seemingly beyond reach and yet here it is! Returning to college is not easy, but it isn’t impossible. You really have to want it.”
The entire experience has been so rewarding for Gregory that, she said, “I think, I wish I had fifty more years in nursing! I truly just want to savor what I have left to do and enjoy it. I want to provide patient care, and I want to be the kind of nurse I would appreciate being with me when I need it.”
Gregory and her husband of 52 years, Bill Gregory, reside in Raleigh. They have been members of Edenton Street United Methodist Church for almost 40 years. Gregory will graduate Saturday, December 11. She will celebrate with a quite dinner with family.