I recall attending a reception with my parents in the spring prior to starting my Freshman year at the University of Pennsylvania (Penn), School of Nursing in Philadelphia. My mother was talking to another parent and I casually joined the conversation. We found out that she and her daughter, Lisa Morris (Bonsall) were from our same small town on Long Island. We attended different schools and therefore, had never met. Call it coincidence or fate – we became instant friends. We both enrolled in the pre-freshman program in August to prepare for the academic rigors of an Ivy League institution. At the conclusion of the program, we felt we were ready. Contrary to this belief, once the school year ramped up, I for one, found it to be extremely challenging. The course load was very heavy our freshman year and the amount of information we needed to memorize and synthesize was overwhelming at times. We managed to survive our first year, despite numerous distractions: parties, co-ed dorms, football games and sorority initiation.
Sophomore year brought with it the beginning of our clinical rotations and an end to our late night parties. While our non-nursing classmates slept until mid-morning, we were up and out the door by 6 am to get to our clinical site for a full day of patient care. I remember learning the basics of safe nursing practice, medication administration, and disease management. I’ll never forget the nursing process and writing care plans for all of our patients, each encompassing an assessment, diagnosis, planning, implementation, and evaluation. The practical, hands-on education continued through our junior and senior year with opportunities to take advantage of the many liberal arts classes that Penn had to offer. Lisa and I made it through, and we both graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing (BSN). It was 1994 and our turn to make a difference.
Lisa decided to stay in Philadelphia and accepted a position in the Medical Intensive Care Unit (MICU) at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP). I headed to the Big Apple to begin my career at the New York University Medical Center as a nurse in the Surgical Intensive Care Unit (SICU). With four years of training at Penn, I confidently thought once again, that I was ready. However, I quickly realized that I had so much more to learn. Each disease and surgical procedure involved many complexities. Every patient’s recovery varied based on multiple factors and comorbidities. I honed my assessment skills and learned to think critically. It was stressful, and I loved patient care, but after a few years in the ICU at NYU, I realized I wanted to do more. I was ready to go back to school and Penn was the obvious choice.
Lisa had come to the same conclusion and had started graduate school at Penn around the same time to pursue an Advanced Nurse Practitioner degree in Women’s Health. I was intrigued by the business of health care and decided to focus my graduate studies on Hospital and Healthcare Management. We both worked full-time, and many night shifts, in our respective ICUs during graduate school. We found ourselves back in the Biomedical Library, spending countless hours studying for exams, writing papers and preparing for presentations. Upon completion of our Master’s degrees, our occupations took off in different directions. Lisa embarked on a career in publishing and writing for Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. I accepted a position in vaccine clinical research at Merck & Co., Inc.
My husband’s job uprooted us from Philadelphia to San Antonio, and we finally settled down in Denver, Colorado. After several years in pharmaceutical research and lots of travel, I took a risk, left industry and began working for a small start-up education company that provided medical simulation training to health care professionals. We developed interactive clinical scenarios around patient disease management. Given her clinical expertise in the MICU, I reached out to Lisa to author several sepsis case studies for us. These cases served as the basis for the critical care curriculum used to train thousands of practitioners across the country. It was wonderful to work with Lisa again and to reconnect after so many years.
Balancing family with a career became more difficult after the birth of my second son, and I decided to take some time off from work to raise my two boys. It was a wonderful four-year hiatus that I will always cherish. Toward the tail end of that break, Lisa had come to Denver to attend a nursing conference. We met for lunch, and I shared with her my desire to return to work. She remembered our conversation and called me a year later with a job offer, as her responsibilities and workload had grown tremendously. I was grateful to have the opportunity to jump back into the workforce, utilizing both my writing and clinical skills. Today, we collaborate on many nursing topics to provide educational resources to millions of nurses around the world.
It is hard to believe that it has been over 20 years since Lisa and I graduated with our bachelor degrees from Penn. I truly believe that it was fate for us to meet and reconnect after college. While we are not at the bedside full-time today, we are still contributing to the nursing profession in very meaningful and impactful ways. Nursing certainly opens up a world of opportunities, but it is up to each individual to take full advantage of them. Personally, there is no doubt that college provided me with an incredible education, but it is the friendships that I made that truly changed my life. For those of you going back to school this fall, enjoy every moment and cherish the people you meet as they may prove to be as important, if not more, that the lessons you receive in the classroom.
Myrna B. Schnur, RN, MSN