At 57, Rhonda Trotter, RN, is just starting her dream job at Memorial Hermann Southwest Hospital

It took Rhonda Trotter nearly four decades to achieve her dream of becoming a nurse.

In 1983, when she graduated from high school, she was a single mother living with her parents and trying to chart a path to a successful career. She already knew she wanted to go into nursing: from childhood, she says, she wanted to make people better. “Even as a kid, if a friend fell and scraped their knee, I’d be like, ‘Let me see,’” she says. “I didn’t mind looking at cuts or wounds. I wanted to help.”

But Trotter’s mother worried that there were too many nurses already. She thought computer science would offer more job security. It didn’t appeal much to Trotter, but she gave it a shot. She earned a scholarship to the University of Houston and started working toward a computer science degree, but only lasted a few semesters. “I couldn’t finish the degree,” she said. “I wasn’t applying myself because it wasn’t what I wanted to do. I hated it.”

She decided to dismiss her mother’s career advice and follow her heart instead. She gave up her scholarship and started taking the prerequisites for a nursing degree at Houston Community College (HCC). “I was only able to do a class at a time because I was working for minimum wage and parenting at the same time,” she says.

In 1987, she took a job with the United States Postal Service, working as a mail clerk at the downtown Houston post office. After slowly accumulating the credits she needed for HCC, in 1995 she was accepted into the school’s two-year associate degree nursing program. But at the start of her second year of the program, Trotter’s post office job intensified. Thanks to a mandatory overtime policy, she was forced to work 60 hours or more every week. She had to abandon her education once more.

Several years later, after her work schedule eased, she returned to HCC to try again. Since some of her credits were more than five years old, however, she was required to retake those courses, including anatomy and physiology. Taking the same classes she’d already passed was frustrating, but she powered through once more. This time, in 2005, she made it to the next to the last session of the program. Then her father was diagnosed with colon cancer. Two weeks later, her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“I’m the youngest of four children, and my siblings were like, ‘Well, you’re the one in the health sciences,’” she says. Of course, she was eager to help her parents. But it meant withdrawing from the nursing program once again. And because the community college only gives students two chances to finish their associate degree, this meant she was out of the program for good.

She wasn’t ready to call it quits, however. After both of her parents beat cancer, with help from their doctors and nurses at Memorial Hermann Southwest Hospital, Trotter kept working toward her goal. She took an early retirement from the post office in 2018, and in January of 2020, she started a bachelor of science in nursing program at Chamberlain University. A month later, the program went virtual because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“They weren’t letting us go anywhere near a hospital,” she says. “I had a Hello Kitty doll that I did most of my skill checkoffs on while my professors watched via Zoom.”

After all she’d been through, Trotter wasn’t going to let a global pandemic get in her way. In January of this year, she earned her diploma, and later the same month, she earned her RN license. In March, she started working at Memorial Hermann Southwest — the same campus where her parents were treated for cancer and other health issues. “It’s been so rewarding to work with some of my parents’ doctors. I even work with some of the nurses and techs that they had,” she says. “I told myself when I finally graduated, I wanted to go to Memorial Hermann, because I saw the culture there and the way they treated patients, and I wanted to be a part of that environment.”

Her parents have since passed — her father in 2016, her mother in 2019 — but before her mother died, she knew Trotter was finally closing in on a nursing degree, and that all her hard work over the years was paying off. Trotter’s son, now 42 with a PhD in education, was thrilled to see her reach her goal.

“I told him, ‘You got three degrees while I was still trying to get a bachelor’s,’” she says. “He was super proud to see me accomplish my dreams. I was always putting them on hold for him or my parents or my job, so he was very excited when I finally made it. I kept my eyes on the prize. I never lost sight, no matter what.”

Trotter knows she still has a lot to learn about nursing, but she looks forward to the challenges each day brings. Working with surgical patients, she believes her years of life experience have made her a better nurse, even though she’s just starting out in her career.

“I understand the anxieties patients and their family members have, because I’ve been through what they’re going through, and I can relate,” she says. “Every patient for me is like a family member. I want them to get the same care I saw my parents receive. Because they had some really, really good nurses.”

Despite all the hardships on her journey, she never doubted that, eventually, she’d achieve her goal. Anyone can follow her example, she says.

“I tell people: I graduated from nursing school at 57 years old. It’s never too late to accomplish your dream.”


  1. This is such an awesome story!! Thank you Rhonda for sharing and I’m so proud of you. You are such an inspiration.

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