Twanda Toliver-Gainer, RN, MSN

Twanda Toliver-Gainer loves to both learn and teach. It's a theme that's evident when she speaks about her nursing career. After leaving the Navy Nurse Corps in 2008, Gainer is still learning and teaching. While pursuing a PhD in nurse education, she's also teaching at South University and supporting students' academic success as an academic success coach at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Nursing. Much of Gainer's love for teaching comes from her desire to help prospective nurses navigate the nursing school application process and succeed in nursing school. This month, she's launching a company called RN Reach, which seeks to connect and support future nurses, especially nurses from underrepresented groups, with mentors. We spoke with Gainer to learn about her journey and to get her advice for future nurses.

Why did you become a nurse?

My interest in nursing started back in high school. I attended South Hills High School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and I had the privilege of being enrolled in the health magnet program. During my junior and senior years, the participants had the opportunity to work at different hospitals alongside the nurse's aides. Shortly after high school I joined the Navy where I served as a hospital corpsman and dialysis tech.

After serving for four years in the Navy, I transitioned to the Navy reserves to attend nursing school at Hampton University—which the Navy helped  to finance. Shortly after completing my first semester of nursing school I was recalled back to Active Duty Service to provide medical support at Portsmouth Naval Hospital because of Desert Storm.

Fortunately, I was able to manage both being on active duty and staying in nursing school ,because of the support provided by the Navy, and the Dean at the time, Dr. Eleanor Daniels of Hampton University. I'm very grateful for their support  because many  of the hospital corpsmen had to delay their studies.

In 1992, I graduated from Hampton University and I was commissioned into the Navy Nurse Corps. I served 22 years in the Navy, and retired in 2008 after achieving the rank of Commander (select). I declined the promotion to spend more time with my growing children, and transitioned to teach at my alma mater, Hampton University. This is where I began my nursing education journey.

Why did you become a nurse educator?

I love teaching, for several reasons—to teach is to learn twice and I love to learn. Teachig also allows me to be a part of making dreams come true for aspiring nurses. I can recall my time in nursing school often leading the study group sessions because I needed to talk things out  for things to "make sense." Several of my instructors planted the seed that I should go into nursing education.

Many of the jobs I had in the Navy also prepared me for the journey in nursing education. For example, while working as a pre-op, same day surgery nurse I created a patient teaching video for patients preparing for surgery. I also recall being uncomfortable with not knowing the specifics of many of the surgical procedures, and I wanted to develop a way to educate myself and the junior staff. As such, I along with the Hospital Corpsman created surgical resource manuals , and surgery of the month bulletin boards to help educate the nurses and hospital corpsman working on the surgical unit.

What advice do you have for people who are thinking about nursing school?

Nursing School admission is very competitive, and your GPA matters as it serves as a predictor of success for many programs along with admission test performance for some programs. As I reflect upon my journey in nursing, I had to take the long route because of my poor study habits and time management skills which are essential in nursing school.

However, these skills can be developed. I started out taking classes at the community college to help improve my chances of being admitted into nursing school. If a person has the will, drive and determination their dreams of becoming a reality is possible. I am a living testimony.

What advice do you have for new nurses?

Everyone's reason for becoming a nurse differs, there are those who enter the profession for "job security," while others are compassionate and view the profession as a labor of love. This is something I learned early on in my career that you can not control.  However, my experience over the past 28 years is if a nurse is having a bad day everyone they encounter will have a bad day...which can be challenging at times! It is very important for nurses to reflect upon why they became a nurse daily and remember to practice self-care.  

One of the classes that I enjoy teaching the most is the 'Foundation of Nursing Course." While teaching this course, I ask the students to write an essay titled "Why did they choose nursing?" The reason I have them write the "why nursing essay," is for the students to reflect upon their "why." When the journey gets hard and they feel like giving up, they can refer back to the written essay to serve as motivation to keep going. It's a great assignment. During graduation I provide the students with a copy of the letter to them with the statement "RN I See You."  Self-talk and determination will help you overcome the challenges that you may face along the way.

It is also important or nursing students to maintain balance. Exercise, healthy eating, and learn ways to manage their anxiety and stress.

What are you goals for your PhD and the next phase of your career?

I would like to be instrumental in playing a role in diversifying the nursing workforce. My PhD research is on ways to increase retention among minority students enrolled in nursing education programs. Research shows that if there are more healthcare providers that look like the patient population, patient outcomes are improved. As a nurse educator I would also like to be engaged in opportunities to promote diversity and inclusion on the national, state and local level.

As the Founder and CEO of RN REACH, LLC our goal is to: Reach-Educate-Advocate-Coach-Hope. We want to provide support and mentorship for aspiring nursing students particularly those from underserved and underrepresented populations

HealthJob Editors
May 10, 2021

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