Ever since she was a child growing up in the small, rural town of Red Bluff, California, Cassidie Thomas has always been driven by a desire to care for others. The 2013 graduate of UCI’s Sue & Bill Gross School of Nursing’s first step toward her nursing career was in a high school health professions course, when she discovered her passion for healthcare while volunteering at a local hospital.

“I worked with the nurses, who exposed me to different aspects of nursing,” recalls Thomas. “It was then that I realized the impact I could have as a nurse.” It didn’t hurt things that a school nurse taught this class.”

Entering UCI as a nursing major, Thomas appreciated the unique opportunity to pursue her passion from the very beginning of her undergraduate education. “UCI’s program allowed me to build a sense of identity within the nursing community early on,” she explains. “I made nursing friends freshman year, and that camaraderie has been invaluable throughout my career.”

After graduating, Thomas explored various nursing roles, including working in the pediatric ICU, fertility clinics, and labor and delivery. Eventually, she found her niche as a school nurse who also mentors other UCI nursing school graduates. “Working in an independent school setting allowed me to make a difference in children’s lives while addressing the diverse healthcare needs within the student body,” Cassidie shares.

Returning to UCI for her Doctor of Nursing Practice with a Family Nurse Practitioner focus, Thomas sought to expand her impact by training future nurses and advancing school nursing practice. “I wanted to use my experience and education to support and mentor new nurses,” she says. “My goal is to elevate the role of school nursing and advocate for the resources and support they need to thrive.”

One of Thomas’s mentees, Melanie Castro, credits her mentor and UCI’s nursing program for preparing her for her role as a school nurse. “As a new grad in school nursing, my experience has focused on the health and well-being of students within my educational institution,” Castro explains. “With the support of my mentor, Cassidie, and my membership in The National Association of School Nurses, I’ve learned to be resourceful and navigate the challenges of being the only medical professional in the building.”

Arielle Valdivia, another mentee, enjoys the spirit of collaboration that exists between her, Castro, and Thomas. “It’s reassuring being a new grad school nurse, eager to learn, and still being able to rely on valuable friendships made at UCI,” Valdivia says. “Our goal, to provide quality and evidence-based care, Is always our priority. We’re supported in keeping up with our profession and carrying on the values of nursing taught to us since day one.

Together, Valdivia, Castro and Thomas represent the shared experience and bond among UCI nursing graduates. “We all have a shared investment in the nursing profession and a commitment to making a difference,” Thomas says proudly. “I’m excited to see where Melanie’s and Arielle’s careers take them and how we can continue to support each other in our journey as nurses.”