Senior nursing major Vanessa Vurno ’19 thrives in high-pressure situations. To prepare for a career as an ICU nurse, she made the most of the different clinical and internship opportunities available through the School of Nursing.
Nursing isn’t a profession for the faint of heart. To navigate all of the challenges that nurses face, Vanessa Vurno ’19 follows one simple principle: Build trust with your patients.
“People have to open themselves up, mentally,” said the senior nursing major from Salem, CT. “They’re allowing us to take care of them in their vulnerability. The fact that they can put all that trust into us — and we trust them — I like that idea.”
Vanessa at fall 2018 Opening Convocation. A senior nursing major, Vanessa plans to work her way up from RN to ICU nurse after graduating.
By the beginning of her senior year, Vanessa completed six clinical rotations in the Western Massachusetts region, gaining experience in a variety of hospitals. After covering nursing fundamentals in her first rotation, she went on to work in medical-surgical, pediatric, maternity, mental health, and geriatric units.
“I don’t favor any age group, but I like the ICU,” she said. “I appreciate the acuity and mental skills you need for that unit.”
Providing hope and reassurance is equally important as clinical reasoning, Vanessa added. Her decision to become a nurse was partly inspired by an emotional experience at home.
“My mother and I helped take care of my grandmother when she was ill,” she said. “Nursing is such a challenging profession, but I’m up for that challenge. I have the passion and the drive to take care of those who are in need of healthcare.”
Opportunities Through Elms
Vanessa’s interest in the intensive care unit (ICU) led her to other professional opportunities, too. The summer before her senior year, she completed an intensive eight-week internship at St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center. Working closely with a nurse preceptor for twelve-hour shifts “was like real life,” she said.
“I did everything. I was charting on my patients, aiding with med packs, drawing up medication,” she added. “I felt very prepared from my clinical experience to go into this internship program.”
While she stays plenty busy as a student athlete and co-chair of the Student Nurse Council, Vanessa makes academics her top priority. As a member of the SNC, she ranks in the top 10% of her nursing cohort.
Karen Braccialarghe, a former assistant clinical professor at Elms, invited Vanessa to shadow her for a day in the pediatric ICU at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center. This experience was eye-opening, Vanessa said, and couldn’t have come about without the faculty guidance the Elms nursing program is known for.
“I feel grateful to have someone like Prof. Braccialarghe because she sparked my interest in the ICU,” Vanessa said. “I know she’s given other students the same opportunity. I don’t know if every professor does that, but there are opportunities to have that mentor here.”
On campus, Vanessa co-chairs the undergraduate Student Nurse Council (SNC) with fellow nursing major Reilly McQueston ’19. Vanessa and Reilly act as liaisons between their peers and the nursing faculty, listening to student concerns about the program and working with professors to make positive changes. Most recently, the duo developed a presentation to help students wrap their heads around ATI, the software used to prepare for the NCLEX.
SNC members also act as unofficial mentors, available to answer questions for fellow nursing majors.
“We’ve had people reach out with questions about clinicals, like ‘What do I bring with me?’” Vanessa said. “I wanted that when I was a first-year student. Now, I feel really helpful, and it’s rewarding to have peers who are so appreciative.”
More than half of the athletes on the women’s lacrosse, softball, and basketball teams are also nursing majors. Vanessa chose to play lacrosse during her time at Elms because it helped her maintain a balanced lifestyle.
Vanessa has also made a positive impact on the lacrosse field, playing four years as attack for the Blazers. She was named NECC Rookie of the Year after her first season with the team, and in 2018, she became the first Elms lacrosse athlete to reach 200 points.
“I’ve been playing sports ever since I was young, so it would have been weird not to be part of at team,” she said. “It actually keeps me balanced by doing that.”