(CNN)Frank Baez got his first healthcare experience as a teenager, mopping floors and cleaning patients' rooms as a hospital janitor at New York University.
Nurse graduates from NYU, years after he worked there as a janitor
This week, the 29-year-old got his nursing degree from NYU's Rory Meyers College of Nursing, after finishing an accelerated 15-month program.
"It was a very intense program, I'll tell you that. It was a lot of work," he told CNN. "It was worth it, it paid off at the end. Here I am now, a graduated nurse."
Baez and his two brothers came to the United States from the Dominican Republic in 2004, when he was 15 years old. He got a job as a weekend housekeeper at NYU Langone's Tisch Hospital when he was 17 to help his mom take care of the family.
Baez liked the fast-paced environment and the people. After a couple of years, he got a patient transport job taking people to tests and other procedures.
"He was always compassionate to patients and families," said Nataly Pasklinsky, who's now the director of simulation learning at the NYU nursing school.
She was a registered nurse at the hospital at the time and saw Baez daily.
"He would ask the nurses questions about patient care and what it takes to become a nurse. My colleagues and I encouraged him to follow his dream," she said.
Baez got his associate's degree and then went to Hunter College to get his bachelor's degree in Spanish literature with a minor in biological sciences. He was the first member of his family to graduate college.
"I was hoping that I would be able to care for patients in Spanish," he said. "I wanted to work with under served populations."
Baez barely spoke English when he arrived in the United States, so he knew how important it is to be able to care for people in their own language.
After college, he got a job as a unit clerk at NYU Langone Orthopedic Hospital and got to work closely with the nurses there.
"I felt inspired by them to become a nurse, so I told them 'I want to be a nurse like you guys,'" he said. "I was inspired by their work and everything they do for their patients."
He worked full time his first semester, which led to some long, frantic days.