“Wizards of Waverly Place's” Jennifer Stone Paused Her Acting Career to Become an ER Nurse — Here's Why

The Disney alum shares how her diabetes diagnosis at 20 changed her career trajectory

<p>Tibrina Hobson/Getty, Jennifer Stone/Instagram</p>

Tibrina Hobson/Getty, Jennifer Stone/Instagram

'Wizards of Waverly Place' star Jennifer Stone
  • Wizards of Waverly Place alum Jennifer Stone was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes after Disney's hit show

  • Stone, 31, shares that her diagnosis made her want to help people going through similar crises, so she went into nursing school

  • Now an ER nurse, Stone began working on the front lines as the COVID pandemic started

Jennifer Stone spent her childhood cracking jokes as the BFF of teen witch Alex (played by Selena Gomez) on Disney’s smash hit, Wizards of Waverly Place

But these days, the 31-year-old has traded punchlines for IV lines, working as an emergency room nurse at a Los Angeles-area hospital.

Post-Disney, Stone tells PEOPLE she was in college and trying to decide on her career plans. She was 20 years old when she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.

“I was like, ‘Okay, Let me pivot from majoring in psychology to majoring in something that I can further understand myself better and what's going on with my body and also be able to help people,’” she tells PEOPLE.

<p>Eric McCandless /American Broadcasting Companies via Getty</p> Jennifer Stone and Selena Gomez on Wizards of Waverly Place

Eric McCandless /American Broadcasting Companies via Getty

Jennifer Stone and Selena Gomez on Wizards of Waverly Place

“I wanted to be somebody that was like, ‘Look, I've been where you've been, and it gets better,’” she tells PEOPLE. “The hardest phase of a diagnosis story is the not knowing what's going on with your body, not knowing how to treat it. I think that's the most challenging part.”

Stone graduated from nursing school in March 2020 — right when the pandemic started.

“I was a brand-new baby nurse and there's a learning curve, especially starting in the ER,” she tells PEOPLE. “It was kind of a baptism by fire, for sure, because it took an extreme environment and made it even more extreme.”

As Nurses’ Appreciation Week kicks off, Stone shared with PEOPLE how she manages her diabetes on the job, why she’s glad she's in scrubs these days, and how she handles it when a fan is a patient.

What led to your diabetes diagnosis?

“I gained a lot of weight in an unreasonable amount of time,” she tells PEOPLE. “I gained, like, 60 pounds in two, three months. That really affected my joints and I was exhausted. Going to get gas, going to lunch, very simple tasks would wipe me out for the entire day. So I knew something was really wrong, and that's what got me to go see the doctor in the first place.”

“But everybody talked to me like it was a terminal thing,” Stone tells PEOPLE. “They were like, ‘Oh, I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry.’ And my mom and I were like, ‘We'll deal with it.’ Things come up in life. Things happen that you can't possibly anticipate. You learn as you go how to deal with it.”

Related: Nick Jonas Shares the 4 Early Signs That Led to His Diabetes Diagnosis

You began working as emergency room nurse right when the COVID pandemic started. What was one moment from that time that stands out?

“I had a shift where there was a 20-year-old that had passed, and she had to say goodbye to her family on an iPad because they weren't letting people in. She was in LA by herself. We had refrigerated crates because our morgue was full. So we had those huge industrial-sized crates with the deceased inside, and I felt like I was suffocated with suffering and demise, and I just broke down.

“I had many moments like that,” Stone continued. “I judged myself at the time for breaking down. Now I know to allow that space to process those emotions. But that was definitely a feeling of, ‘How am I gonna get through this?’ But like I said before with type 1 [diabetes], you have these challenges and you have those moments of like, ‘How am I gonna get through this?’ But you always find your way."

Have you ever been recognized on the job in the ER?

“I thought for sure that I I wouldn't be. I'm in full PPE [Personal Protective Equipment], but I guess my face is really distinct. So I went into this patient's room that had COVID and I've got the hood on, I've got the gown, I've got gloves, I've got everything. I've got a cap on so you can't see my red hair — because my red hair sometimes gives me away — and she heard my voice. This huge smile came on her face and I felt so blessed to be able to give her just like a brief moment of joy when she was really scared and not feeling good.”

Related: 8 Former Child Stars Who've Moved On to 'Typical' (and Impressive!) Day Jobs

Is there a downside to being so recognizable?

“I had one girl get so mad at me because I wouldn't do a TikTok with her,” Stone tells PEOPLE. “There's so many things wrong with [that] at my job when I have other patients. I offered to take a quick picture, but a whole TikTok dance, no. You have to have a boundary because I'm still at work.”

<p>Medtronic</p> Jennifer Stone uses her Medtronic device


Jennifer Stone uses her Medtronic device

When did you realize you belonged in the ER?

“The moments that I have with diabetic patients or other patients with chronic conditions  — there's a shorthand of, 'What tools work for you, and what helps you?' I love being able to share like, for me, the Medtronic pen is a game changer. It's a smart pen that works with the app and just makes me not have to think about diabetes so frequently throughout the day. Being able to share that with the patient and hearing what works for them, and making them feel calm in an uncertain time, it just makes me feel like I'm in the right place, like God has brought all of these challenges and difficulties in my life to fruition for a purpose. And that feels like I'm doing something worth doing.”

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Read the original article on People.