Milwaukee teen earns nursing license before graduating from high school

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    While most high school students juggle their coursework with extracurriculars and college applications, Rufus King International High School student Imunique Triplett had her eye on a different horizon. As a successful alumna in the M3 (M-Cubed) Early College Nursing program at Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC), the high school senior is now a licensed practical nurse (LPN), even before walking across the stage at graduation. 

    The M3 (M-Cubed) College Connections Program is an innovative dual-enrollment program that gives Milwaukee high schoolers the opportunity to earn college credits concurrently with those going towards their high school degree. This collaboration between Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS), MATC, and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee offers students three different pathways to give them a head start on their college careers: general, nursing, and education. The program, which was started in 2015, aims to “provide access to a high-quality education” and “ensure [that] the people in our community are prepared for good-paying jobs.”

    Imunique Triplett

    Triplett’s nursing adventures began during her sophomore year of high school. Her curiosity was piqued after receiving a Google Classroom notification about the LPN program, which she then decided to further research. 

    Even though she is a notoriously squeamish person, Triplett decided to face her fears of both blood and the unknown and applied to the program. “[I did research] about LPNs and what their responsibilities are and I kind of gravitated towards it,” she explained. 

    Despite her hesitations, Triplett decided to proceed with the program. “[When] I actually started the program, I kind of realized, ‘You know, I’m glad I didn’t let my preconceived judgments decide where I take this or where I don’t take this.’ And [it’s] definitely the best decision I could’ve made.”

    M-Cubed strives to not only give high school students practical skills, but help them to be well-rounded community members. “The program offers academic, cultural, healthcare, and financial benefits and opportunities to students,” M-Cubed instructor Patricia Balistreri explained. Balistreri has been working as an educator for both practical nursing (PN) and registered nursing (RN) programs at MATC since 2013.

    Being the highly motivated student that she is, Triplett took this academic challenge in full stride. During her first semester in the program, she balanced six high school courses with one of two accelerated college prerequisites, which switched halfway through the semester so she could complete the other one. And unlike most students, the pandemic actually helped to ease some of Triplett’s learning stress. “I was able to put in enough time and effort into those classes in a way that wouldn’t necessarily distract me,” she explained.

    In addition to being a disciplined student, Imunique was also an inspiration to her peers. “Even as a student still in high school, she demonstrated gentle and caring leadership skills to her classmates, who were traditional students,” Balistreri recalls. “She is a person that can walk into a room and just make people feel comfortable, accepted, and happy.”

    But like every hard worker, Triplett soon learned that staying on track for both degrees wasn’t a walk in the park. “I definitely was close to burning out. I honestly don’t know [how I didn’t]. I took it one day at a time,” she recalled. “Some days were better than others, some days I’m like ‘I got this, this is gonna be nice’ and other days I’m like, ‘What am I doing here, am I sure that this is what I want to do, because this is the hardest thing that I’ve ever done in my life.”

    The rigor of M-Cubed’s program helped Triplett to prioritize self-care and learn how to be gentle with herself. “Even if it was something small that I could do for myself, like doing a face mask or watching a movie or even just going to sleep, [I’d do it],” she explained. “I’d be like ‘Hey, you’ve done a lot of studying, it’s okay to go to sleep right now, it’s okay to close the books for now.’”

    Despite the magnitude of her accomplishments, Triplett shared that she often experienced imposter syndrome, even more so after she earned her license. “I think it’s still something that I’m trying to adjust to,” she said. “Everyone’s like, ‘you just obtained a nursing degree before you graduated high school,’ and I’m like, ‘Oh, okay.’ But I have to think about it and I’m like, “Wait, that’s such a huge thing, why am I downplaying it as if [it’s nothing]?’

    “A lot of my friends definitely encourage me and they’re like, ‘You just did all of this, you should be proud of yourself,’” she continued. “So a lot of my friends definitely kept my mind where it should be. I definitely had to learn how to be proud of myself.”

    Triplett’s motivations, in part, lie in wanting to address issues of health inequity that exist in Milwaukee and beyond. “I think I want to open up a clinic, whether that be for the public or for mothers who might be expecting children. […] Some kind of clinic where I could give back to people and tie it into nursing or medicine,” she explained. With Milwaukee’s Black maternal mortality rates being one of the highest in the country, Triplett’s aspirations are a welcome intervention to this issue.

    “There are a lot of minorities and people who don’t have access to health care and it’s kind of saddening considering that […] it’s something that everyone should have access to […],Triplett said. “Health care is so expensive and people have illnesses left and right. I wanted to be somebody who can allow people to have access to those kinds of things.”

    When asked about advice she would give to students who might be on the fence about enrolling in M-Cubed, Triplett emphasized the importance of believing in yourself and taking a leap of faith. “If it’s something that you really really want to do, then do it. […] Because if you don’t, and you look back and you’re like, ‘I could’ve done this and this is where I could’ve been in this exact moment,’ then you’re definitely going to have some regrets. And I  know that having regrets is one of the most difficult things.” 

    “You can’t change the past. You can’t take opportunities that you passed up so if it’s’ something that you really really want to do, even if you don’t feel like you can do it, do it, because you definitely can,” she continued. “We’re so much more capable of doing things than we might think at first glance. So it’s really important to kind of have that faith in ourselves and jump headfirst into things.”

    Now in her final semester of high school and almost two whole degrees under her belt, Triplett is looking forward to her next steps. As she awaits college decisions, Marquette University and New York University (NYU) compete for her “top choice.” Excited to put her nursing skills to the test, she is deciding between sticking with nursing and pursuing a pre-medical degree.