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Darris Serves Country and Patients

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

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Maria DarrisWhen Maria Darris immigrated to the United States from the Philippines at the age of 24, working as a nurse’s aide was one of the few jobs she could find. Although it may not have been her dream job at the time, she quickly realized the high impact nurses can have on vulnerable populations. 

“I realized that nursing is not only a much-needed profession, but a noble one,” she said. “Being a healthcare worker came naturally to me.” 

Fast-forward nearly 30 years. Darris still is serving others through her role as a nursing instructor at St. Louis Community College-Florissant Valley. 

Darris’ path to the profession began when she joined the U.S. Army. She made this decision because she knew it would provide her with excellent training and benefits. 

“It was an honor to serve in the Army,” she said. “While on active duty, I volunteered for all of the courses that pertained to nursing. I was first trained as an orthopedic technician and eventually as a licensed practical nurse.” 

Although she excelled in her training, Darris knew one thing was holding her back. 

“Every time I took a leadership course, though I would graduate first in my class, I could not verbally communicate without having to repeat what I had to say twice,” she said. “I quickly realized that I would never be taken seriously if I could not speak English clearly.” 

Darris devised a plan to overcome this obstacle. 

“I managed to save enough money from my Army pay to buy a small video player, a copy of Disney’s “Cinderella” (because it was on sale), and a small cassette voice recorder,” Darris said. “I spent the next year listening to every word spoken by Cinderella and recording my voice saying the same words on the voice recorder. In time, my language improved, and although I still have an accent today, I hardly ever have to repeat what I say.” 

Darris was active duty until 2006, when she received an honorable discharge. In addition to earning several medals throughout her Army career, she was awarded a Meritorious Service Medal after her last deployment in the continental Unites States. Darris received this medal for her contributions while deployed under the 82 Airborne in Fort Bragg, N.C., as a non-commission office-in-charge for a two-star general’s command center. At the time, this award was the highest medal a U.S. soldier could obtain during a peacetime deployment. 

She enrolled at STLCC-Florissant Valley the following year, graduating in 2010 with an associate degree in nursing. 

“I had a wonderful experience as a student at STLCC,” Darris said. “After I graduated, I knew I wanted to pay forward the blessings I received from this country by imparting all the nursing knowledge I gained from both my civilian and military experiences.” 

To do this, Darris served as a tutor for STLCC’s nursing students while working full time as a registered nurse. Darris continued her education, earning a bachelor’s degree in home economics and a master’s degree in nursing from the University of Missouri-St Louis. She’s also completed coursework toward the Doctor of Nurse Practitioner program. 

Her advice for students considering a similar career is to remember that nursing is a public service. 

“It’s important for you to understand that you will be caring for a population who needs not only your nursing skills and expertise in managing the disease process, but also your assistance in facilitating their emotional needs in coping with their illness,” Darris said. “As such, it’s imperative that you learn everything you can from the program. I guarantee that if you work hard and focus, you will graduate from STLCC’s program prepared for a career as a trained, skillful, safe and effective nurse.” 

Outside of work, Darris spends time reading about health and plant-based food as well as desertification and the environmental challenges facing the world. She also enjoys sewing, crafting and going on walks and bike rides with her husband. 

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