Alumni Nursing

Decades-Long Dream Leads to AHU Denver

Preview image of John Itoe's Decades-Long Journey to Become a Nurse Watch Video

Imagine a time in your life you felt a calling, a personally meaningful purpose that offers no option but to commit to it wholeheartedly. To be driven, despite numerous obstacles that may have been insurmountable for others. To never give up. This is John Itoe’s story – one that took 31 years and culminates with AdventHealth University Denver.

In 1992, Itoe’s initial connection to nursing was driven by a family illness.

“I remember back when I was in my first year of secondary school, my father was hospitalized,” says Itoe, who grew up in Cameroon in Central Africa. “I saw the kind of assistance the nurses gave him and watched how they cared for my father. He had become helpless; he couldn’t do what he could do when he was strong. I just felt like, helping him was the point, the direction to go. I told my mom that nursing was something I want to do. And my mom said, ‘if you would love to do that, do it.’”

After his father’s death, their family faced many challenges. As one of 10 children, Itoe watched his mother become consumed with the care of him and his siblings. He finished high school and earned a certificate in information technology, teaching computer sciences, math, and chemistry at several schools and eventually working for the city’s IT department. While Itoe worked hard in those early years to support his family, he was still making plans to pursue nursing. In 2010, 18 years into the pursuit of his calling, his long-awaited green card arrived. He quickly arranged to leave home and head to the United States.

“I had a neighbor who came from Cameroon to Colorado five years before me. I made contact with him when I received my green card, and he said he could receive me. I had a place to stay right away.”

But the road to Colorado was not so smooth. His flight came into Philadelphia, and U.S. Customs delayed Itoe because of the contents of his luggage.

“I had some stuff from my hometown so I could keep enjoying it, like dried fish and vegetables that can’t be found in the U.S. The officer questioned me a lot, and I was not looking directly at him because I was shy, so they suspected me of wrongdoing and I missed my flight. They had to put me into a hotel, but the next day I was able to fly to Colorado.”

Itoe refocused on his nursing goal, but settling in America was challenging.

“I was married before I left Cameroon, and that separation weighed on me. Life was very hard between 2010 and 2012. When I first came to the U.S., I didn’t have anybody to give me a ride when I was looking for a job. I was legal and had all my papers, but it wasn’t easy. Friends get busy and nobody is there to take you to places to look for work. It took me about two years before I could start taking my nursing prerequisites.”

Itoe was strategic in his steps toward nursing from the beginning. He knew what sacrifice was, but the costs were high.

“Since I wanted to pursue nursing, I wanted to take a certified nurse assistant (CNA) job, but you have to have a license, and I didn’t have the funds. A friend loaned me some money and I told him that when I began working I’d pay him back. I had to borrow another part somewhere else. Attending the classes was another level of difficulty. I’d have to take a bus or walk in the snow. But I was persistent - because a CNA job has to do with nursing, I really have to do it.”

In 2012, Itoe began working as a CNA and taking the prerequisites needed for nursing school at a local community college. Sending extra funds to his mother and siblings back home in Cameroon was also a priority.

“It’s been a long road,” Itoe says, when he reflects on that period of his life. “When you have family back home that depends on you, even though you are happy to be in a better place where you can assist them, it’s a challenge. I couldn’t take a full load of classes, so it took me longer than most people. My mother was by herself and taking care of my siblings. And the situation in the country where she was…there was war going on. So it took a lot of extra time, but I had to help my family.”

After completing those nursing prerequisites in 2014, Itoe enrolled in an Integrated Nursing Program at a local, traditional school of nursing. This offered him a pathway to earn a Bachelor of Science degree in his field of choice. His wife joined him in the United States during this transition, and his first child was born the following year. Taking classes, working, and caring for his family here, as well as his family in Cameroon, occupied all his time. The pressure ultimately took its toll.

“My wife was not working, and I couldn’t achieve what I wanted to in nursing school. I was missing quizzes and exams because there were days I just couldn’t go. One day my daughter needed to have surgery and I had to be there. The school told me I had to take a particular test and could not make it up, but I had to be with my daughter. Because of that, I could not continue in that nursing program.”

A Cameroonian friend helped Itoe discover AdventHealth University Denver, a smaller campus whose mission is to develop highly skilled professionals who live the healing values of Christ.

“I loved the school because it is God-fearing. I quickly decided to move to AdventHealth University Denver; I just love the air around it. This institution is all about the kind of care that I want to offer people.”

Itoe began classes in 2019, and a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing would normally take three to four years to complete. But 2020 brought the COVID pandemic and his now two daughters were being schooled at home. Within the first year, the stress caused him to fail a required mental health class by just a few points and wait a full year to retake it.

“My wife was working by then, and the kids were at home trying to do school,” says Itoe. “I just had to let that go for a year. I did continue and pass the class during the next term. By then I was taking classes full time. But in 2022, I had another failed class and I was delayed for another full year while I waited to retake it.”

In summer 2023, 13 years after setting foot in the United States, Itoe began his final run at a nursing degree. All of his sacrifice, perseverance, and commitment paid off in December 2023, when he earned his nursing degree from AHU Denver. In March 2024, he also passed his NCLEX, the exam that qualifies someone to become a registered nurse.

Sarah Romero, Assistant Dean of Nursing at Advent Health University Denver, says Itoe is known for his quality of care and is confident about a positive future for the graduate.

John Itoe with Nursing faculty members at the nursing pinning ceremony
John Itoe receives the Caring in Nursing Award.

“We were honored to educate John through his nursing school journey. AHU Denver is unique in its faculty-to-student ratio and that is something that sets us apart. We know our students beyond their academic status. We know when a student is having struggles, whether they be academic, emotional, or financial, and have the support services to help them navigate so they can focus on their program. John was determined to be successful and utilized the resources available him,” Romero says. “As the Assistant Dean, I communicate with our hospital partners often and I repeatedly heard how much patients appreciated the compassionate, whole-person care they received from John during his clinical rotations. John truly is an example of the AdventHealth mission to extend the healing ministry of Christ, and I strongly believe he will carry that mission into his practice as a Registered Nurse.” 

During AHU Denver’s Nurse Pinning Ceremony, Itoe was honored by faculty with the Caring in Nursing Award.

“The award reflects who I am and what I have been trying to be for so many years. I am proud to have been so resilient. I didn’t give up. It didn’t matter how fast I got here, it’s how one continues to press on.”

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