Commencement 2021: Ghanaian nursing student achieves her life’s dream at URI after decade-long struggle

KINGSTON, R.I. — May 24, 2021 — Telma Odoom regards caring for others as a nurse as her destiny. However, her journey to becoming a nurse was almost a decade-long struggle.

“My name is Telma, which to me means ‘to care,’” says Odoom, who graduated Friday from the University of Rhode Island’s College of Nursing. “That’s what I’ve wanted to do my whole life, but it was nowhere near easy.
A native of Ghana , Odoom immigrated to the United States with her parents in 2012. Odoom felt constricted by the rigid school system back home. She enrolled in college in Ghana to pursue a bachelor’s degree in economics and statistics before coming to the U.S..

“Back home our school system is different when it comes to majors and programs. Whatever you studied in high school is what you stick with in university as well,” said Odoom. “In my high school, all the subjects I took were related to social science and not general science. So I had no other choice but to do something related to that.”

When her family moved to the States, Odoom was astonished by how open the American higher education system was and immediately tried to seize the opportunity to chase her dreams, even though she had to start from scratch.

“I didn’t have a strong science background and I only knew the basics. I enrolled in classes at the Community College of Rhode Island to take all the prerequisites for nursing,” said Odoom, of Pawtucket. “I felt like I was behind compared to everyone else. Everyone I went to school with were either doing their master’s or a Ph.D. but I was still in my undergraduate career. I had to start all over again.”

Odoom enrolled at CCRI in 2012 to take the prerequisites necessary to transfer to URI’s nursing program. But she was only able to get into the URI program three years later.

“Nursing is a demanding program. I was either waitlisted or rejected every time I applied because I didn’t have enough credits or a high enough GPA to get into nursing school,” said Odoom. “There were moments while I was waiting where I almost gave up. It was hard because I kept thinking if I was back home I’d be done with my college life by now. But when I finally got into the nursing program, it was all worth it.”

While she finally got into the nursing program and felt a sense of accomplishment, Odoom recalled that her difficulties still hadn’t ended.

“Sometimes I felt like an outsider and struggled more than everyone else in my class on my exams,” she said. “But I didn’t see another option other than doing whatever it took to get to the finish line.”

Odoom attributes the day she received her white coat at the College of Nursing’s White Coat Ceremony as the moment she felt like her struggles were finally worth it.

“I went with my mom and my brother to the ceremony and all my days of struggling in the U.S. seemed to vanish at that overwhelming moment,” said Odoom. “Just holding the white coat that said ‘College of Nursing’ in my hand, waiting for them to put it on me to say ‘welcome’ was a moment I will never forget.”

Odoom plans to specialize as a medical-surgical nurse after graduation and hopes to gain some work experience before pursuing a master’s degree.

“I’ve been exposed to many specialties in nursing and I don’t want to limit myself yet,” Odoom said. “I’ve been in school for what seems like forever, so I want to be ‘in the field’ for a while before jumping back into school.”

Odoom hopes to inspire aspiring nurses like herself to never give up on their dreams.

“All your failed trials will make you a stronger person and you will get to your destination someday,” she said. “Nobody can say you can never get somewhere, because you will get there no matter how long it takes you.”