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Upstate nursing student’s resilience leads to success

To remember where she came from, nursing student Brandiss Pearson-McIntyre just needs to look out the window of Upstate Medical University’s new Academic Building.

Looking west toward downtown, Pearson-McIntyre can see the other side of Interstate 81, where she lived in subsidized housing for 10 years with her two young sons, now 16 and 14.

That was then. This is now:

Pearson-McIntyre is on track to earn her master’s degree in Upstate’s Family Nurse Practitioner program in May. She’s juggling the required 225 clinical hours with class and study time, along with teaching first-year students at St. Joseph’s College of Nursing.

“It’s survival,” Pearson-McIntyre said recently before heading to Weiskotten Hall to study for an exam. “But on that side (of I-81) it’s a different kind of survival. Here, there’s progress, intention, purpose. Here, my purpose is to succeed. Over there, you’re just trying to survive.”

Revisiting the past evokes “all sorts of emotions,” Pearson-McIntyre said — a lot of raw memories, pain and sadness, but also pride and happiness at how far she’s come.

“When we ended up in subsidized housing, there was still the expectation to do something,” she said. “I spent 10 years living there, and earned a social work degree at SU.”

Along the way, Pearson-McIntyre also earned her LPN certificate, RN license, and a bachelor’s degree in nursing from LeMoyne College.

None of it was easy, especially the times she had to defend herself. In a class at Syracuse University, a fellow student, a woman from a rural area, used the word “colored” during a discussion.

“That was a raw moment,” Pearson-McIntyre said. “I felt, ‘This hurts. A lot.’”

It was also a classic teachable moment. The student didn’t use the word maliciously, Pearson-McIntyre said, but just had no clue that it was hurtful. A productive discussion followed.

That was a turning point for Pearson-McIntyre .

“That was the moment I realized I had something to prove,” she said. “Until that moment, it was just ‘survive.’ But I carry a legacy, a people, and their dreams. I had to prove something.”

Four years ago, Pearson-McIntyre, 35, was able to buy a home on Syracuse’s North Side through Home HeadQuarters, which provides grants and low-interest loans to qualified home-buyers. That and other parts of her story are told in a six-minute segment on WCNY’s “Insight” program.

Pearson-McIntyre credits her support system with helping her thrive. She’s especially grateful to Melanie Kalman, Jody Coppola and other Upstate Nursing faculty, her St. Joseph’s colleagues and students, her church and her family.

“My husband (Ronnie McIntyre) is just amazing. He just puts me on his shoulders and just carries all the burdens I bring home,” Pearson-McIntyre said. “He just says, ‘Give me some of that.’”

Additional motivation comes from Pearson-McIntyre’s 38-year-old brother, Seth, who just graduated from Duke University School of Law. “We inspire each other all the time,” she said. “My mom is a law school graduate and is a soon-to-be NP. People counted us out.”

Pearson-McIntyre said she strives to be a role model for her two sons, Shaun, 16, and Brandon, 14, who has Down Syndrome.

“They may see me as an example of resilience and ambition, or maybe as a turnoff,” Pearson-McIntyre said of her busy schedule. “But either way, the message is there – Don’t wait until your 30s to work hard at pursuing your passion.”

For the time being, Pearson-McIntyre’s hectic schedule involves more juggling than balancing.

“People see this smiling face, and they’d swear I have it all together,” she said. “I am overwhelmed. People assume I’m always happy. There’s choice. There’s always ‘stuff.’ I tell my students, you’re a walking billboard. Whatever face you put on, that’s how people see you. Be present. Be in the moment.”

Whether she’s teaching aspiring nurses, or taking care of patients, “I feel like I’m living my calling, to help people transition from where they are to where they want to be,” Pearson-McIntyre said.

She reminds her first-year nursing students, if patients aren’t treating them well, “They don’t know you well enough to not like you. It’s not about you. There’s a loss of control. You get to go home at the end of your shift, and they may not get out, ever.”

Pearson-McIntyre doesn’t have much time to think about the future, but she knows she wants to be a leader in health care and continue teaching.

Along the way, she’ll keep telling her story, either through public speaking engagements or the book she hopes to write, based on her journey.

“I’d just say, we all have a story,” Pearson-McIntyre said.

“We all might not share the same story, but there’s more that unites us than divides us. We all want to survive or succeed. We all have to overcome something. Our story is the foundation we stand on, or the crutch we lean on.”

—taken from With Distinction

Caption: Brandiss and her husband, Ronnie McIntyre.

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