From Fast Food Worker To Registered Nurse: Picture Tells Only Half The Story
By Angelina Gibson
From frying chicken to saving lives.
Nurse Faye Lewis’ viral facebook post has been shared more than 100,000 times - and for good reason. It shows the realistic career progression of a resilient nurse. But the story behind the badge is even more inspirational.
Faye has experienced heart-wrenching loss and the most challenging circumstances - including losing her father and multiple family members in a horrific fire during her first week of nursing school.
Though her journey to get to where she is today was less than ideal, she embraces it, saying “I probably wouldn’t have chosen this journey. But, it’s my journey, I own it. I embrace it.”
A Non-Traditional Path
Her mother was a Certified Nursing Assistant and she always knew she wanted to be a nurse. Her favorite subject in school was science and she grew up in a supportive family that attended church frequently. Faye’s first job was at KFC, which she started at age 16 to help her parents.
Awarded 11 academic scholarships for college, Faye completed her freshman year with excellent grades in almost all of her classes. However, she received Bs in two of her classes which led to a rejection from nursing school. At the end of freshman year, she also became pregnant with her son, AJ.
Lewis had two choices. She could either stay at the University, retake the classes, and hope to be accepted the next year - or, she could return home and take a non-traditional path towards her nursing degree. With her unborn child’s interest in mind and the support of her family, Faye left the university and moved closer to her parents.
“My family really supported me and helped me make it possible,” she says. “When I had him, it gave me even more strength to pursue my dreams so he can do the same.”
Moving Up The Ladder And Into Healthcare
Lewis enrolled in community college but, the nursing program was not accepting new applicants at the time. Her job at KFC was going well and she was promoted to Manager.
But she knew she wanted more for her son.
It was around this time that she obtained a position as a Housekeeper at an Assisted Living Facility. In 2010, with the help of a government program called New Step, Lewis was able to complete her certified nursing assistant training and started working at Memorial Medical Center.
Finally, Faye was immersed in a hospital setting and was surrounded by her role models - Registered Nurses. This environment solidified her desire to become a Registered Nurse and she knew she had to continue her education. While continuing to work at KFC, she enrolled into an LPN program - and, completed that in 9 months.
In fact, during the day of her board exam she also had a KFC Manager meeting - she completed her exam and rushed to her meeting. She soon learned that she, indeed, had passed the boards!
With her new degree came new responsibilities and a nice pay increase but, she still wanted a better life for her family. Lewis decided to continue her education, yet again, and pursued her Associate’s Degree in Nursing.
A Tragic Loss
“Many students lose their loved ones while in nursing school,” Lewis recalls a Professor saying. At the time, she hardly paid the comment any mind.
Tragically, just a few days after her professor said those words, Lewis’ Father, three cousins, and the family dog were killed in a house fire.
“One of my best friends called me hysterically crying,” Lewis recalls. “When I heard the news, I dropped to my knees. My mom made it out alive just by a miracle of God.”
Faye experienced great anxiety and sadness during this time. She was also met with overwhelming support from her family and co-workers at the hospital. Many of her coworkers donated their PTO to her - so she could have adequate time to grieve.
Such tragic death, all at once, is hard to even imagine - much less, live through. Some people may have given up. But not Faye.
“My faith and relationship with God helped me get through that dark time. I prayed a lot and asked God to guide me. I had a supportive family and I knew my Dad wouldn’t want me to quit,” said Lewis.
Becoming A Registered Nurse
It wasn’t easy. She worked as an LPN during the day and at KFC during the evening - all while going to school, raising her young son, and grieving her lost family members. But, nothing could hold her back and she obtained her ADNin 2014. “I made it through despite it all,” remarked Lewis.
Around this time, the hospital she worked at strongly encouraged diploma nurses to pursue their Bachelor’s Degree. Faye knew it was in her best interest to further her education - and, though she had just completed her degree - she enrolled in a Bachelor Degree program.
In May of 2016, she graduated with her Bachelor Degree in Nursing.
A Random Photo Goes Viral
One of Faye’s role models was a Professor in college who worked as a Family Nurse Practitioner. She admired the way her Professor interacted with the students and the stories she told about her career. Thanks to the influence of this Professor, Faye started a Doctorate Program to become a Family Nurse Practitioner.
Faye posted the viral photo of her badges during the same week she started her Doctorate program. She was going through her items with her Mom and talking with her about the struggles she was encountering.
“Over the years I’ve often called my mom, upset, saying things like I can’t do this or, I’m just done.” She added, “But, my Mom always encourages me and says, keep going, you’ve always made it work.” This was one of those times.
“I found a plastic baggie full of my old badges and noticed that my new badge now listed my BSN so, I snapped the photo - to encourage myself. I had been through a lot, and I knew I could do this too. I didn’t post it for attention. I just wanted to have this photo to motivate me through my Doctorate program,” said Lewis.
How Life Has Changed
Lewis, who financed herself through college with the help of scholarships and grants, says “nursing is my calling and I love what I do. I don’t do it for the money - I’m far from rich. It’s my passion and I love helping others.”
“I’m proud that I’m able to provide my son with a lifestyle where he’s able to attend a private Christian school. Private school was never an option for me,” remarked Lewis. She continued, “This year, I was able to take him to Disneyland - and he loved it. Being a single parent isn’t easy but, we make it work.”
Billboards and Big Dreams
Faye’s road to fame started even before her viral Facebook post. Earlier this year she was featured on a Hospital Billboard for Memorial Medical Center.
“The photo was from 2016 when I was nominated for the Magnet Mentor of the Year Award. The hospital did a photo shoot and flew me down to Florida for the awards.” she continued, “I had no idea it would be on a billboard” she said, laughingly.
Faye added, “I’m such a quiet and reserved person - I’ve been in school for the past decade. All I do is spend time with my family, go to work, school, and church.”
When asked how she feels about the viral post, she said, “I didn’t know such a simple post would inspire so many. People are telling me that the post gives them hope. I owe that to God.”
It’s hard to believe that Faye is only 27 years old.
Inspirational To All
People all over the internet have chimed in on Faye’s success, and shared their own journeys:
“Mine was from Security to Cargo to Physician. All by his grace.”
“HHA, Waitress, owned an Adult Care Home for 15 years, EMT, RN with Associate, BSN, MSN. Now working on my Nurse Practitioner.”
“Fast food, housekeeping, grocery, secretary, Tech, LPN, RN…I took the long way around but, I finally made it at 40!”
“This is one of the best things about nursing!!! People can start at the bottom and work their way up to an amazing career. This story can be told by many, many nurses. These are some of the best, down to earth nurses, you can work beside. All of us self-made nurses stand tall and proud.”
“I went from McDonald’s to landscaping to CNA now RN”
“Awww this gives me hope ! I am saving this to remind me that I can do it too . Might be a little late but I know I will”
“YES!!! Laundry Lady at Hospital, CNA, LPN now soon RN!!!!”
“Candy striper volunteer, tray girl dietary, nursing assistant. Diploma RN, completing my BSN.”
“Hardie’s drive thru cashier to dietary aid, to CNA, to LPN to RN”
“My first job was at Wendy’s”
“I went from retail to fast food to Medical Assistant and hopefully next year will be starting class as a CNA AND FUTURE GOAL RN”
“I had a small child, worked part as a cook in a restaurant, while going to school, paying for it myself. I brought to the job life experiences that l might not have had otherwise.”
“Born and raised in another country where back of the days very rear who use to speak English. Immigrated to USA when I was 22 with no English at all. Started work as a school bus maintenance then waitress then secretary in doctors office then CNA and since 2009 I’m RN. Almost done my BSN. And I love it.”
Nurses certainly are a resilient and driven bunch! Way to go, Faye and nurses everywhere.
Nurse.org's Popular Articles and Resources
Best Gifts for Nurses
Tis the season! Check out our list of the top gifts for nurses.
15 Highest Paying Nursing Jobs in 2021
You know all nursing jobs aren’t created (or paid!) equally, but do you know which nurses are making the most money in 2020?
2021's Best Nursing Schools
We've looked at programs nationwide and determined these are our top schools
Start your Career Quiz
Ready to take your career to the next level? Find out what your next step could be.