Spring Commencement 2023: Rory Croke, School of Nursing
When asked what impact she wants to have in her career, Radford University Carilion (RUC) senior nursing student Rory Croke responds, “My route is kind of weird — I want to change the system as a whole.”
She has dedicated her educational journey to learning as much as she can about how mental and physical health are connected and believes that working on strengthening both simultaneously can help patients heal holistically.
Croke’s empathetic view on the best ways to work with patients came from her own childhood and some traumatic incidents that caused her to experience her own health issues.
“My home environment was extremely stressful, and I felt very alone in dealing with the trauma I was experiencing,” she said. “I was afraid to tell anyone about what was happening at home.”
Croke said that in addition to her unsettled home life, there were some events that began to lead her down a dark road.
When she was 17, Croke's oldest brother unexpectedly passed away. The circumstances were traumatic for Croke, and she was just beginning to deal with that interruption in her life when her beloved grandmother was diagnosed with cancer.
“I had never dealt with such trauma mentally,” she recalled. “It was bad enough that I suffered from PTSD and became physically ill, requiring hospitalization.”
At the time, she admitted, she did not think she would make it “due to the pressure and stress I was enduring.”
Then, she remembered a conversation she had with her brother when she was younger about how important it is to care for others who had traumatic experiences and cannot afford or are too afraid to ask for help. At that moment, she says she decided to dedicate her life to helping others in need by first taking care of herself.
“In the year that I made that decision, I earned my highest GPA, began my mental health and fitness journey and proved to myself that I can do anything regardless of my limitations,” she said.
She began intense research on the science that goes into emotional and physical health, fascinated by the things she found and chose to incorporate into her own lifestyle.
“My journey is important because, through these adversities, I’ve found that I need the skills to help patients heal emotionally as well as physically. I want to be a guiding light for patients as they go through what may be some of the most difficult moments of their lives.”
In addition, Croke said that her clinical experiences as a student have shown her there is a “revolving door” effect in healthcare at times, leading patients to never fully heal.
“I have seen the effects of being understaffed and how healthcare providers are impacted by it, causing a decrease in the optimization of patient outcomes,” she said. “I want to help change that.”
Croke said that after graduation, she hopes to one day earn her master’s and doctorate degrees in nursing, eventually becoming a general nurse practitioner.
“I plan to have my own practice one day that has an integrative approach to health and wellness,” she said. “I want to incorporate fitness, nutrition, life coaching, motivational speaking, mental health, beauty and medical practices into one, utilizing a value-based care approach.”
Croke feels privileged to have received the education she’s gotten at RUC.
“Radford University Carilion has offered me an amazing education through hands-on learning,” she said. “Each professor I’ve had has worked diligently to make sure that each student has an in-depth understanding of the material we would be learning. It has been an incredible experience.”
Croke expanded her leadership skills as a Highlander, becoming the vice president of the RUC Student Nurses Association (SNO).
“This role has allowed me to begin a mentor/mentee program where we pair underclassmen with upperclassmen of similar interests to make connections and ask questions,” she said.
The Salem, Virginia, native also used her connections at Roanoke College to expand an existing “Toys Like Me” program from that school’s campus to RUC. Through the program, the SNO raises money to purchase stuffed animals and dolls, using old medical supplies to create toys that resemble patients. Those toys are then donated to nearby pediatric clinics.
“I thoroughly believe that my accomplishments would not have been possible to achieve as a busy nursing student without the community we have at Radford University Carilion,” Croke said. “I would recommend it to anyone looking for a nursing program, which I already have been doing when the chance arises.”