After earning her bachelor’s degree from Arizona State University in technical communications and multimedia writing in 2010 and landing a great job with a defense contractor, Kristina Gamble found herself at a crossroads. A declining economy contributed to the company’s demise and the single mother of a son with a serious skin condition requiring multiple surgeries and hospital stays found herself in a personal and financial crisis.

“I was in a catch-22 of sorts, with education credentials but no experience in that field and experience in another field but without the required degree,” said Gamble. She started working on business proposals for the defense contractor and eventually wound up leading the payroll department for the company’s 700 employees worldwide.

Nurse Mom & Family Connection

Given her son’s medical issues, Gamble was more than familiar with the role of nurse mom, caring for her son at home and through numerous medical procedures. As she started to consider what was next, Gamble also looked to the example of her mom, Elizabeth Maddux, who graduated from Brookdale’s nursing program in 2005 and now works at a Veterans Administration Hospital in Orlando, Florida.

“She’s had such an amazing career,” said Gamble, who was born in Georgia and now lives in Eatontown, N.J. She decided to pursue the same path for herself and enrolled in Brookdale in 2016.

On the Move

Growing up as a proud “military brat,” Gamble learned how to adapt to changing circumstances quickly and frequently as she lived in more than 10 states and Germany when her father, who retired as a two-star United States Army general, was on active military duty.

The ability to meet multiple challenges and to assess new situations quickly prepared her well in overcoming obstacles that could have blocked her entry into and progress in a new professional field.

While on the wait list for the nursing program, Gamble, who did not possess a degree in science, completed all the necessary pre-requisites to position herself for admission once a slot became available.

Scholarships Makes the Difference

However, the financial pressure nearly derailed her dreams. As someone who already had a bachelor’s degree, Gamble was not eligible for financial aid. She saved money to pay for courses and lab fees.

Several scholarships from the Brookdale Foundation, most notably the Donna Paynton Scholarship, helped to ease the financial stress.

“At first, I felt a bit out of place with a younger population on campus,” said Gamble. “However, I have met so many adult learners in the nursing program on paths to their second, or even third, careers!”

Support from family, her nursing colleagues and faculty have lessened the initial nerves and instilled Gamble with the confidence to “not only be a nurse, but a great nurse.”

During her four clinical semesters in the nursing program, Gamble earned multiple scholarships, including the Donna Paynton Memorial Scholarship twice, the Brookdale Foundation and Alumni Association Scholarship, the Joan Litwin Memorial Scholarship and multiple book scholarships.

She credited the nursing faculty and clinical instructors for bringing “rich, real-world experience” into the classes and labs, instilling confidence in their students that they will be “prepared to handle whatever come their way in a health care setting.”

On a Mission

“I’ve saved up every cent for my end goal of a master’s in nursing,” said Gamble, who will transfer to New Jersey City University in the fall to complete her bachelor’s in nursing.  As someone on a mission, she already has a head start, completing two upper division classes last summer.

An avid competitive distance runner, Gamble is also looking forward to when she can train for and compete in more races. She has completed the Philadelphia Marathon, Brooklyn Rock-N-Roll Half Marathon and the Eatontown 5k in the fall.

Given the focus and drive she has demonstrated in her nursing classes and labs, it is only a matter of time before she is setting the pace again.

About Donna Paynton

Donna Paynton
Donna Paynton


“Donna’s dream career was always nursing. She was a stay-at-home mom until our two sons were almost of high school age. In 2001, she went back into the work force as an emergency medical technician for both Monmouth Ocean Hospital Service Corporation and Colts Neck First Aid. She then decided to pursue her dream of becoming a registered nurse. No doubt Brookdale was the school for her. Her mother was also a nurse and an instructor in Brookdale’s nursing program at its inception.

“In 2007, Donna graduated the nursing program and started working as an emergency room nurse at Bayshore Community Hospital. She then became the head nurse of a branch office of the Visiting Nurses Association.

“In 2015, Donna was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, bringing an end to her nursing career. During the nine months of many surgeries, treatments, complications and anything else that was thrown her way, she still had a positive, caring attitude. She always had a smile. I always said if you looked up the definition of a nurse in the dictionary, you would see Donna’s picture.

“After Donna’s passing in 2016, we wanted her name to be remembered. What better way than to help others who share in the same dream as hers? The scholarships in her memory make us feel as if Donna is still a nurse and continuing on. It is a great privilege for us to offer these scholarships in Donna’s name. We hope to continue for years to come.”

-Bud Paynton