Love of children and caring drives Nursing student’s pediatric oncology research
Hayley Rohrbaugh ’21 spent most of her life dreaming of becoming a teacher. She knew she wanted to work with children, and she had a passion for helping others. However, a car accident her junior year of high school changed everything.
Hayley’s father was driving the family’s truck during a foggy night in Ohio. His truck was rear-ended, and he broke both of his arms, one of his legs, and fractured six of his ribs and his sternum. He eventually had to have a hip replacement from the accident, as well.
“When the police approached his truck, he thought my dad was dead, or at least he should’ve been dead,” Hayley says. He was transferred to a hospital in Pittsburgh. On weekends, Hayley would leave York, Pennsylvania, to help him at the hospital. When he eventually came home, the family put a hospital bed in his room and Hayley took over his care.
She helped him go to the bathroom, eat, and perform all kinds of basic activities. At 250 pounds, it was difficult for her 110-pound frame to move her father from his hospital bed to a chair to eat. The experience eventually taught her how to move patients, but more importantly, it showed her she loved being a nurse.
Choosing York College of Pennsylvania
After deciding on a Nursing major, Hayley researched some of the top schools for nursing and found York College. She knew she would have trouble moving away for school and wanted to be close to her dad, so she chose to attend York College and live at home. Hayley also started working as a direct care worker for a man who was paralyzed to gain some experience working one-on-one with patients.
As part of the Graham Innovation Scholars program at the College, Hayley had the opportunity to do summer research or an internship that supported her career or improved her knowledge of a specific field. She chose to look at pediatric oncology because she felt it was the perfect combination of her love of nursing and children.
“I wanted to see that field before I decided to go into it because I know people said it’s really hard because kids can pass away on you,” she says. “But if I can make someone’s life a little bit better before they pass or while they’re stuck in the hospital, I want to do that.”
Hayley’s research centered around six different hospitals she could see herself working or interning at, including Johns Hopkins Hospital and Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. Then she started researching the hospitals’ programs, specifically, how nurses interact and talk about cancer with pediatric patients and their families. She found that nurses played a huge role in helping patients understand what was happening to them on a personal level. Some of her favorite programs even offered opportunities for children to talk to each other while in the hospital.
“Some hospitals have a lot and other hospitals barely have anything,” Hayley says of communication programs. “And I feel like the ones that are doing better have more effective communication. I want to learn how to teach effective communication to the hospitals that aren’t doing as well.”
Informing a future career
The next step in Hayley’s research is empathy interviews over the summer with help from her scholar advisors. She hopes to go to the hospitals she researched and interview nurses, parents, and children in pediatric oncology. As she tries to find a job as a pediatric oncology nurse after graduation in December 2021, she wants to show her research to help hospitals offer more effective and efficient communication.
Although she’s a Nursing major, Hayley also has a minor in Entrepreneurship that was inspired by the Graham Scholars program. She hopes the minor helps her stand out and learn more about the business side of healthcare. In the future, she’d even like to go back to school to become a Nurse practitioner.
“I know it’s going to be a really, really hard career, but I think that it will be worth it in the end because it’s everything that I’ve ever wanted in a job,” she says. “Even if you can’t save everyone, at least you can make it better and be there with the families, too.”