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Former optician sets sights on new career in healthcare

Melissa Russell

CFCC student Melissa Russell considered a career in health care following her husband’s health scare. After the couple became foster parents, Russell realized the need for mental health care and decided the time was right to pursue a new career. With her husband’s blessings, Russell leaped into CFCC’s Associate Degree Nursing (ADN) program .


Russell worked many years as an optician in a private optometry practice. She loved her job and clients but wanted to shift into the health care field. Still determining exactly what path she wanted, she reached out to CFCC.

Russell met with a CFCC academic advisor, and together they planned a career path that matched Russell’s passion and goals. Encouraged by her advisor, Russell applied to the ADN program and was thrilled when she received her acceptance.


Going back to school after 20 years in the workforce initially seemed daunting to Russell. However, her husband’s health crisis prompted her to go for it.

“I think everybody has a major life event that rocks their core,” Russell explains. “I wanted something better for my family and our future. So, I finally got the guts and applied to CFCC.”

Russell discovered that returning to school as an adult learner was comfortable. Her nursing cohort is a diverse group of students from all walks of life. She shares classes with other adult learners as well as other parents.

“Age isn’t a barrier,” Russell commented. “In the classroom and clinical, we all help each other. It’s a perfect blend, and we work well together.”


Becoming a foster mom has been a wonderful experience for Russell and her husband. Caring for foster children made her more aware of mental health care needs. Russell believes that emotional trauma begins at a young age and advocates for early intervention.

Russell appreciates that psychology units are among the clinical sites included in the program. She enjoyed clinicals in behavioral health, where she observed group therapy sessions. These clinical inspired her to pursue her ultimate career goal as a psychiatric nurse practitioner for adolescents and teens.

“I was excited for the behavioral health clinical,” shares Russell. “I think mental health is just as important as physical health. I came back to school because I knew I had this calling.”


Being a full-time student, mom, and wife does not hinder Russell from being active on CFCC’s campus. She makes the most of her time at CFCC.

Russell serves as a student ambassador and host for CFCC’s virtual tour. She is also a member of the Cape Fear Association of Nursing Students (CFANS) Club.

Russell encourages everyone to return to school, particularly adult learners considering a career change.

“It’s all going to be worth it,” shares Russell. “If you want to make a better life for yourself and your family, you have to start. Believe in yourself. Have confidence that you can do it.”


After graduation, Russell will begin her nursing career in behavioral health. She accepted a position in the behavioral health nurse residency program at Cone Health in Greensboro. Russell also has plans to transfer to UNC-Greensboro to pursue her bachelor’s degree in nursing.

Join Russell and her fellow student ambassadors on a virtual tour of CFCC’s campus. See for yourself what CFCC can help you achieve.

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