Midland College grad recalls journey from high school dropout to registered nurseOctober 26, 2023

The image to use for this article. Listing image managed through RSS tab. Cristian Atayde standing in Beal Plaza on the MC campus.

“I would have graduated from high school in 1998, but I was a troublemaker and in and out of alternative programs during my junior high and high school years,” Cristian Atayde said.  “I dropped out of high school and became a dad at the age of 19.  I also spent time in jail and five years on probation.”

Atayde said that he soon realized he needed a high school diploma if he was going to get anywhere in life.  In 2000, he got his high school equivalency diploma (GED®) after taking preparatory classes at Midland College (MC).  That was the beginning of a 23-year association with MC.

“I started working at CSI in Midland, and during breaks, one of the welders Ernie Muñoz would teach me how to weld with scrap metal,” Atayde explained.  “Ernie was the first of several mentors that I had throughout my career and whom I owe a great deal.  

“I also took an interest in computer assisted design.  So, I took some welding and AutoCAD classes at MC.”

He said that while he was working at CSI, his wife at the time was working as a Certified Nurse Aide, and he thought that he also might like to do something in the medical field.

“No one ever really told me anything about careers when I was growing up,” Atayde said.  “My parents are Mexican immigrants.  My father has been a hard-working carpenter all his life and barely has a 1st-grade education.  My mother grew up as a migrant farm worker and has a 5th-grade education.  

“When I started thinking about a career in the medical field, the advisors and professors at Midland College discussed the possibilities with me.  I particularly remember Ethel Matthews who was a Biology lab instructor.  She encouraged me to pursue a medical career.”

Atayde applied and was accepted into Midland College’s Respiratory Care program.  After graduating with an Associate of Applied Science degree from MC, he worked at various hospitals in Midland, Lubbock and Odessa.  While working as a respiratory therapist, he became interested in nursing, so he returned to MC to take nursing classes, and in 2012 he graduated with a second associate degree and became a Registered Nurse.  

Currently, Atayde is a charge nurse in the Post-Surgical Until at Midland Memorial Hospital and also works in the Oncology Unit.  In addition, he also has a certificate as a Medical Surgical Registered Nurse and occasionally assists surgical residents and surgeons.  During the COVID pandemic, Atayde worked in the ICU as a critical care nurse and credits fellow registered nurse David Firenza with helping him fine tune his critical care skills.  

“Being a nurse in the ICU during COVID was probably the most difficult time I’ve encountered during my career,” Atayde explained.  “I worked 60-hour weeks and saw a lot of death.  In fact, I lost one of my respiratory therapy mentors, Jaime Lozano, to COVID.  Without him, I don’t think I would know as much as I do about respiratory care.  

“I will always remember every phone call I had to make to a patient’s family to tell them that their loved one was about to die.  The hospital couldn’t allow family members to be present because it was so infectious.  That year took a toll on me both physical and emotionally.  Fortunately, I have a very supportive wife.”

Atayde and his wife Melissa have been married for 10 years.  They have two children—a 9-year-old son and a 5-year-old daughter.  

“Melissa is a stay-at-home mom,” Atayde explained.  “Even though COVID is over, I still work a lot of hours—usually 12-hour shifts Wednesday through Sunday.  So, Melissa and I think it’s important for her to be at home for our children.  I try to take off every third weekend so that I can spend time with our family.”  

The family enjoys vacationing together.  They have been to England, Italy, Spain, France and Germany.  In addition, they have traveled extensively in Mexico, including Copper Canyon, Mexico City, Playa del Carmen, Cancun and the Yucatan Peninsula.  

Atayde is also close to his older son who is now 24.  The two of them enjoy spending time together in the Jiu jitsu gym.  Atayde will have his brown belt in December.

 “Growing up, I never dreamed I could have a life like this,” Atayde said.  “After I dropped out of high school, my life could have taken an entirely different path—one that probably wouldn’t have ended up well.  Fortunately, I learned the value of hard work from my parents, and I am very fortunate that I had great mentors throughout my career and at Midland College who took an interest in me and saw possibilities.”

Atayde is currently working toward a Bachelor of Science Degree in Nursing from Texas Tech University Health Science Center and eventually hopes to earn a master’s degree and perhaps teach nursing.

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