Registered Nurse Thao Carey’s parents were so dedicated to education that they encouraged their five daughters to study either math or science in college. Ultimately, two of her sisters became engineers, one is a dentist and the youngest works in public relations.

Thao’s path to her career as a registered nurse in LVMC’s Critical Care Unit was circuitous after she initially chose to follow her love of science.

Earning a bachelor of science degree in biochemistry at San Francisco State University, she became an analytical chemist and research assistant in the Bay Area.

Though her love of science goes back to her high school days growing up in Santa Clara, she soon discovered that working in a lab wasn’t what she enjoyed.

“The human interaction is not there,” explained the mother of a 9-year-old girl and 7-year-old boy – both born at LVMC.

For a while, Thao thought she might apply for medical school. But her marriage to husband Brian – and his acceptance into dental school – put those plans on hold.

The couple moved to Lompoc in 2007, where Brian was reared, to open a dentistry business at 619 E. Ocean Ave.

“Our dream was to be in practice together,” explained Thao, who became co-owner and office manager of the practice.

Seeing her husband fulfill his dream eventually nudged her toward a career in healthcare. She attended the Certified Nurse Assistant program at Allan Hancock College and began work at the Comprehensive Care Center.

“I loved everything about it,” she said.

The desire to continue providing care was the impetus to applying to California State University at Channel Islands, to earn a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing.  She graduated with honors in May 2017.

“I’m a go-getter,” admitted Thao, who was born in Saigon, Vietnam and immigrated with her family to the U.S. when she was 7. “It fits my life so much better. If I didn’t have that urge for medical school, I would never have been on this path.”

The diversity of skills and tasks associated with nursing

keeps her interested.

“Every day is different,” Thao said. “For nurses, you’re more

than a caregiver. You’re an educator. You’re there emotionally for the patient. Sometimes being there helps with healing, with the human interaction. You see them in the worst of times.”

The profession suits her.
“I love everything about it; the camaraderie, the collaborative work,” Thao said.

She spent about two years working as a student nurse at Cottage Health System, a Level II trauma facility. She completed clinical rotations in psychiatric and addiction medicine; orthopedics; labor and delivery; surgical trauma; critical care; emergency; pediatrics; mental health and public health, among others.

She finds she prefers a smaller environment, where she can easily approach more experienced nurses to ask for guidance.

“LVMC has a more personal feel than a bigger hospital,” she said. “You get to know everyone and I love that.”

The transition to the hospital as a relatively new registered nurse has been perfect, she said.

“I have felt that everyone was very welcoming and supportive at LVMC. As a new employee, Medical Surgical unit Director Vanessa Barnes, my charges nurses, and coworkers are always reaching out to me and make me feel that I’m a valuable part of the team. They are there to help me always.”

Thao said she feels honored and proud to be working in the CCU unit at LVMC.

“I love the one-on-one care,” she explained. “The patients are at their sickest, and that’s when they need you the most. You need to be their advocate.”

During her nursing rotations, she helped to care for a One Legacy patient, whose organs were being donated.

“You’re dealing with death and you’re dealing with life,” she said. “This person is helping another person live. That sparked my ICU (Intensive Care Unit) interest.”

Following her parental encouragement toward education, she believes it’s important not to be stagnant.

“I don’t think I can ever stop learning,” she admits.

She plans to begin pursuing her Master’s of Science Degree in Nursing in 2020.  

 “I have roots here,” she said, her smile beaming. “We plan to be here for a long time.”