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Externship in post-op heart unit solidifies passion for York College nursing student

November 16, 2018
Hannah Conway, nursing graduate

You can think of an aortic aneurysm like a balloon inflating inside your body. Don’t get excited though, this is not a fun balloon. If it pops, your chances of survival are slim.

Maybe that’s why the man, who survived surgery after doctors discovered an aneurysm about to burst, was so thankful when he finally left the hospital.

He’d been given a second chance on life.

He hugged every single nurse on the cardiac surgery step-down unit at University of Maryland Medical Center where he recovered after surgery. He was just so grateful for everyone who had helped him along the way.

Hannah Conway couldn’t help but smile with him. The room was just bursting with joy, happiness, and gratitude as he prepared to leave.

It’s a moment the York College of Pennsylvania student knows will stick with the man, and it will definitely stick with her.

If she’d ever had any doubts that she was meant to be a nurse, that experience washed them away. She was right where she belonged.

Real world experience

It started with an email from her academic advisor.

Like many of her classmates at York College, Hannah was looking for a summer externship to round out her experience before her final semester.

Her teachers and advisors regularly sent out emails with opportunities to work with local hospitals. Being from Annapolis, Md., she was especially interested in one such email about opportunities at University of Maryland Medical Center. After an application and an interview, she was in.

That first day was a little nerve-wracking, but it was also exciting. Her mentor was amazing and helped ease her into the job. And her classes at York College provided her with a solid foundation to build on.

For 10 weeks over the summer, Hannah worked just as every other nurse on her unit — three 12-hour shifts each week. Once she’d gotten her feet wet, she jumped right into patient care.

“It was a great learning experience from day one,” she says.

The cardiac surgery step-down unit, where Hannah worked, helps patients recover from cardiac surgery. And a lot of what she did was to help get them up and moving within a few days of surgery to aid recovery.

“Patients are terrified after open-heart surgery,” she says. “It takes a lot of help and encouragement from the nurses to get them to that point where they’re on their feet.”

There were patients who needed extra encouragement and attention, but Hannah didn’t mind. She loved being there for them and helping them recover.

By the end of the externship, she felt certain in her future as a nurse.

“This is my dream, this is my passion,” she says. “I found it.”

Prepared for the future

Back at York College for her final semester, Hannah says she’s more confident in her skills. She spent so much time putting in IVs during her externship, that putting them in for a grade at school was a breeze.

She felt confident taking charge with patients in front of her teachers — it was just like another shift at the hospital.

“I felt way more confident and experienced having worked on a unit,” she says. “I know what to do.”

This last semester is bittersweet. She’s sad to leave York College, but she’s excited for the future.

She’s accepted a position at University of Maryland Medical Center in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit — her dream job.

When she was a teenager, she tore her ACL playing soccer. She remembers how incredible the nurses who took care of her were.

“I know how it feels to be on the patient side of things,” she says. “I want to be that for other people.”

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