Class of 2023: With her second degree from VCU, Pia Cruz charts a new course

December 9, 2023

Author: Joan Tupponce

Pandemic inspired School of Business alum to shift to hands-on patient care through the accelerated nursing program.

pia cruz poses in front of the egyptian building on the v.c.u. m.c.v. campus
Pia Cruz said her experiences in the School of Nursing and the School of Business “have been significantly profound and amazing.” (Kevin Morley, Enterprise Marketing and Communications)

Virginia Commonwealth University was the perfect place for Pia Cruz to earn two bachelor’s degrees — at different times, and in very different disciplines.

The first – in finance from the School of Business – came in 2016. And the second – from the accelerated nursing program in the School of Nursing – is coming this month.

“My experiences in both degrees have been significantly profound and amazing,” said Cruz, who relished VCU’s diverse campus, urban setting and wide-ranging specialties, from medicine to the arts.

Originally from the Philippines, Cruz grew up in Williamsburg. She became an American citizen in 2020 at the height of the pandemic. “Finally becoming a U.S citizen felt natural – it is my home, and I wanted to make it official,” she said.

Of her first stint at VCU, Cruz said she majored in finance because it aligned with her interest in math, and she enjoyed the challenge of the changing markets and new investment theories.

“Finance opened up a broad set of opportunities across different industries,” she said.

After getting her degree, Cruz landed a job in corporate banking and worked in the field for several years. During the pandemic, she worked remotely from home – and that’s when she decided to change careers.

“I realized I wanted to be more hands-on, working directly with people again,” she said. 

She turned to nursing because it gives her the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others in their most vulnerable moments.

Any interaction, regardless of how small or impactful, done with care and compassion can leave such a significant effect on someone.

Pia Cruz
Class of 2023

She credits her late grandfather, who was a provincial (equivalent to village) physician for introducing her to the medical field.

“He cared for his patients with so much love and compassion for next to nothing, and my current family members that are also in the medical field give me strength every day,” Cruz said.

Her classes in the School of Nursing have given her a broader understanding of the health care system and the many opportunities that align with her interests. “It’s also been inspiring to be surrounded with colleagues that hold similar values in caring for others and the drive to constantly evolve,” she said.

Cruz points to registered nurse Agnes Carabat, one of her clinical mentors who is also Filipino, for making a lasting impression.

“She taught me that being humble is key to being a successful nurse. One of the lessons she taught me that I’ll never forget is having the privilege of being more inherently caring,” Cruz said. “Agnes and I both recognized that character trait in each other almost immediately. It placed a certain confidence in me that nursing is where I’m supposed to be.”

Within nursing, she’s interested in promoting mental health.

“Educating others about the importance of mental health care is very fulfilling,” Cruz said. “There is a growing need for mental health care advocates, and mental health touches all fields of nursing. In the future, I see myself pursuing a master’s degree with a concentration in psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner and making a difference in how people perceive mental health.”

For now, though, Cruz wants to take some time off to go back to the Philippines after graduation.

“I’ve been really missing it. It is a side of me that will never fade – no matter how far away I am or how noisy life can get, I always have the Philippines to keep me grounded,” Cruz said. “It’s the perfect time to get in touch with my roots before starting this new chapter of my life in nursing.”