When Zhane Conner, CNA, officially earns her bachelor of science in nursing degree from the University of Colorado College of Nursing on May 22, it will mark another chapter in a life dedicated to serving others. But finding that passion didn’t necessarily come easily.
Shy and introverted by nature, Conner credits her mother for keeping her active with many organizations, including Destination Imagination Colorado (a program which prepares kids to be innovators of the future), Girl Scouts, and NAACP Colorado. She also joined the Youth Partnerships for Health and the Mayor’s Youth Commission in high school.
“Just being around people and political figures got me out of my shell and opened up new doors for me,” she says. “My mom always made sure that my sister and I were doing something. We were never just sitting at home. She made me step outside of my comfort zone. We were also in the church for a very large portion of my life, and she made me sing in the choir to get in front of people.”
“I didn't know exactly what I was going to do for a long time, but I knew I wanted to be in healthcare.” – Zhane Conner, CNA, CU Nursing BSN student
Conner, who grew up in the Denver area, attended Xavier University of Louisiana with a focus on becoming a medical doctor. Xavier is the only historically Black Catholic university in the United States. Upon the canonization of Katharine Drexel in 2000, it became the first Catholic university founded by a saint.
“I went there for a year, and then I came back home because it was super expensive,” she says. “I couldn't afford it – even with loans and things like that. So, I took a four-year break. I didn't know exactly what I was going to do for a long time, but I knew I wanted to be in healthcare.”
After working a number of customer service and administrative jobs (mostly in healthcare), and becoming a certified nursing assistant (CNA), Conner pursued pre-nursing studies at Community College of Aurora before dovetailing into the Integrated Nursing Pathway program at CU College of Nursing at the Anschutz Medical Campus.
Since 2017, she has worked for home healthcare agencies throughout the Front Range as a Certified Nursing Assistant – mainly serving older patients.
“I liked that one-on-one interaction I got in home healthcare,” she says. “But sometimes I felt like I wasn’t being challenged.”
Getting clinical experience here and abroad
After enrolling in CU Nursing in 2021, Conner got a solid foundation in nursing basics and abundant clinical experience at Rocky Mountain Children’s Hospital, Sky Ridge Medical Center, Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Medical Center, Craig Hospital, and most recently, Centennial Peaks Hospital.
Of her clinical experiences, Conner says her time at Craig was among her favorite because she enjoyed working with traumatic brain injury patients and spinal cord injury patients.
Conner says the most life-changing experience in her time at CU Nursing came early in 2023, when she joined BSN peers on the Global Health Nursing in Guatemala course in the Trifinio region of southwestern Guatemala.
“It was amazing,” she says. “Initially, I had no clue what to expect because I'm not a Spanish speaker at all. So, it was kind of a culture shock for me. But what I’ve learned in nursing – and in life – is to let down my guard, and allow myself to just learn. That whole experience really changed my outlook on life in general. It also made me want to do nursing even more.”
What the future holds
Despite working in numerous settings, Conner says she hasn’t settled on a specific nursing discipline yet.
“I know a lot of people have a vision in mind, but I'm still genuinely figuring it out,” she says. “I do feel well-equipped to start working, but there are so many things that I do not know, and I will not know until I actually start working. Of course, I need to take NCLEX as soon as possible. And then from there, I just need to find a good job. I probably should start applying now.”
Whatever path she pursues, Conner is certain she’ll have support from her parents who continued to encourage her as she shifted her career focus from being a doctor to being a nurse.
“My parents are divorced, but they’ve been very supportive of my journey,” she says. “They’ve always encouraged me to be who I am now. So, I'm really thankful for them.”