Parallel Careers: Nursing Alumnus Shares His Experiences From Firetrucks to Emergency Rooms

Sitting between Ivan Mustafa ’98, ’03MS and I is a device that is tracking all of the dispatched fire trucks in Osceola County.  As the shift commander at Osceola County Fire & Rescue, Mustafa has 106 men working for him at 15 different stations that handle anything emergency-wise for the entire county. On his “off days” he is also an advanced registered nurse practitioner at Advent Health, working 4-6 ten-hour shifts a month in the emergency department.

Mustafa also allegedly “retired” in 2015.

“I retired from the Seminole County Fire Department in 2015 after going through the ranks there since 1987,” Mustafa says. “So for a while I was just doing the nursing thing, but I had a lot of free time on my hands. I bought every tool I could fit in my workshop and then some. I did a lot of projects in my house, so taking it easy was not looking very promising. I got bored very quickly and came back.”

According to Mustafa, he wasn’t the kid who grew up wearing a fire hat, running around telling grownups his future aspiration of being a fireman. He was, however always interested in things medical-related and excelled in his chemistry classes.

After watching the show Emergency!, which focused on two young firefighter-paramedics Johnny and Roy, dreams of being a paramedic started forming in young Mustafa’s mind.

A firefighter’s schedule, especially in the early days of their career, often leaves space for a second job. For Mustafa, who was working one day and then off for two, he was looking for more to do. That’s how he came to be an alumnus of UCF College of Nursing.

“It was never my intent to leave the fire department,” Mustafa says. “I wanted to basically run parallel careers.”

So, he did.

The first time Mustafa applied to nursing school at Valencia College, he was accepted. But when he, still working for the fire department, started looking at everything that would have to align for him to stay working and commit to school, he turned down his offer. He talked himself out of it, and then quickly regretted doing so.

He applied for the next semester, but, unfortunately, in between his initial acceptance and second application, a handful of new requirements had been instated. He was turned down.

Freshly determined to make it work, Mustafa knocked out the requirements and applied for a third time and got into the associate nursing program. This time, he said yes. This time, he’d do whatever it took to make whatever craziness got thrown his way as a fulltime student and a fulltime fire department employee work.

“I call it the hoop theory,” Mustafa says. “Every week is a hoop and you gotta jump through it. So I don’t worry about next week. This week is a hoop, so I’ll get through it and then worry about the next hoop. That’s how I figured out my schedule at that time and making sure I was able to get everything needed done — ‘cause nursing school is a fulltime program. I just worried one week at a time and before I knew it I was done. Go through one hoop, then another, and then it’s just like ‘wow, I got a diploma now.’”

Upon his graduation from Valencia with his associate degree, Mustafa applied to UCF for his bachelor’s degree and was immediately accepted. For Mustafa, being at UCF laid a crucial foundation for his dual careers. He is grateful to his professors and advisors for not only ensuring that he was prepared for the basics and for quality patient care, but for treating him like a person rather than a number.

“At UCF, you have every opportunity to succeed. It’s only on you if you fail,” Mustafa says. “It’s hard, but there’s a method to the madness and they’ll give you the map to success if you’re willing to follow it.”

Mustafa sees the value in having dual professions in how they intersect and one can educate the other. Doing both allowed him to meet and network with folks on both sides of the aisle and to bridge some gaps in the different industries.

By running parallel careers, Mustafa was able to take what he knew about the nursing world and apply it while he was in the fire truck, setting the stage for the other paramedics as to what would happen when they arrived at the hospital. And alternatively, when he was at the hospital, he could talk from experience about how the paramedics side worked.

“People sometimes ask me which I like better, but there is no better because they’re completely different,” Mustafa says. “With paramedics, it’s get somebody where they need to go and move on to the next one. Whereas with nursing, we think about this whole scope of care all the way through recovery and rehab. When I’m doing one, I’m having a great time and when I’m doing the other, I’m still having a great time.”

In both of Mustafa’s roles, he gets to do what he loves most, care for others. He describes himself as a people-person who would be too nice and just give money away if he ever tried to run a business. He definitely feels he picked the right career path(s).

“I get to help people on their worst day,” he says. “It may be another day for me, but I’m either showing up to someone’s house on their worst day or they’re coming to me on their worst day. Either way, it’s my job to make that day a little better and there’s no better job.”

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