Opening mind and heart: launching a nursing career as a volunteer

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Senior Caroline Kemp, in Durban, South Africa, did health teaching with children and performed health screenings. Influenced by Augustinian Volunteers, she decided to do a year of volunteer work in San Diego.

In today’s job market, it might seem unusual to stray from the usual path most new nursing graduates seek, but for senior Caroline Kemp, San Diego beckoned. This summer, she is set to travel to California to begin her journey as an Augustinian Volunteer in the southern part of the state.  

“My faith is an integral part of who I am and is my personal ‘mission statement’,” she explains. Her strong faith played a key role in her choice to come to the Villanova; the University’s service opportunities and student-run liturgical ministries gave her the opportunity to blend her desire to help others through nursing while incorporating her faith.

“From being a nervous seven year old handing out sandwiches at a soup kitchen with my family to helping a young abused mother in South Africa, I have grown in faith and love and my desire to serve others has become a central part of who I am,” Caroline explains.

Last spring, she visited South Africa with other College of Nursing undergraduates where she had a chance to meet the Augustinian Volunteers in Durban. The Augustinian tradition at Villanova has had a profound influence on Caroline and working as a volunteer seemed the perfect fit. Upon graduation, she will travel to San Diego to work as a registered nurse at a clinic that offers medical and dental care for residents of St. Vincent de Paul Village, a homeless shelter. She will also be assisting with the assertive community treatment program, which is a multidisciplinary approach for clients with a history of homelessness and mental illness.

Becky Coyle '07 BSN
Becky Coyle's volunteer experience changed her career path.

Though many students might not choose Caroline’s path, alumna Becky Coyle ’07 BSN says,  “She is about to embark on likely the best year of her life, thus far.”  Becky, a current PhD student at Villanova who also works as a nurse practitioner in the Internal Medicine Department at Philadelphia’s Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, spent a year as an Augustinian Volunteer at the San Diego clinic.  

As an undergraduate, Becky availed herself of the many service-related opportunities Villanova had to offer. She attributes her inspiration to become a volunteer from her experiences with Campus Ministry and her passion for nursing. Though she had toyed with the idea of the Peace Corps, she felt a two-year international service program would remove her too far from modern healthcare and make it harder to find a hospital job upon return. She discovered the Augustinian program and found that it placed registered nurses in nursing roles where they had the chance to continue service to their community while still practicing healthcare.   

Becky’s year at St. Vincent’s taught her a lot about patient care and the role of a public health nurse; it also had a huge impact on her life trajectory and the reason she chose to become a nurse practitioner. She remembers her first day when she had a patient fill out his medical form and he wrote that his address was “the canyon near 30th street.” From patients who were PhD-educated to those who were immigrants from South America, she worked with a diverse population and learned the importance of cultural competence and non-judgmental care.

Becky was immersed in a collaborative work environment comprised of physicians, psychiatric residents, nurse practitioners and nurses. She found that patients with complex health problems, who were managed by the nurse practitioners, would often return looking to consult with the NPs rather than the physicians. Perceiving this caring NP-patient relationship and seeing them as influential members in these patients’ lives influenced her to eventually return to Pennsylvania where she graduated from University of Pennsylvania’s’ Family Nurse Practitioner program in 2010.

Now at Villanova in the PhD program, she has the opportunity to one day share with students her passion for nursing and patient care. As far as her experience in San Diego and what Caroline can expect, she has this to share, “It is important to go into this experience with an open mind and heart. You will learn so much about yourself, as well as others. Though there will be physical, emotional and psychological challenges, you will grow so much on an individual and spiritual level.”