Skip to main content

Gerontology Interest Group Summer Externs Gain Valuable Experience for Future Practice

Daniel Wala (left) and Dan Dougherty were summer GIG externs caring for older adults with Generations Health Canyon Oaks in Los Angeles in summer 2022.

This summer, five Villanova Nursing students advanced their understanding of older adults and their care needs thanks to externship opportunities offered through FCN’s Gerontology Interest Group (the GIG), directed by Melissa O'Connor, PhD, MBA, RN, FGSA, FAAN, the inaugural M. Louise Fitzpatrick Endowed Professor. Dr. O’Connor is a Distinguished Educator in Gerontological Nursing and a scientist whose research focuses on the health outcomes of vulnerable older adults receiving home health care.

Through the GIG’s partnerships with Generations Healthcare in Los Angeles and with Maris Grove, part of Erickson Living, in Glen Mills, Pa., five students enjoyed summer clinical experiences to enhance their education.

“Villanova Nursing is the first, that I know of, to partner with community-based organizations in such a unique way to expose nursing undergraduate students earlier and more often to older adults,” notes Dr. O’Connor.  The intent is to nurture the growth of the next generation of nurses who will care for older adults.

As rising seniors, Daniel Wala and Dan Dougherty worked as certified nursing assistants at Generations Healthcare’s Canyon Oaks in Los Angeles, Calif. this past summer. Through Generations Healthcare’s support and thanks to the generosity of John ’87 VSB and Lois ’87 VSB Mastrocola, both students were able to live and work in California for the summer, gaining hands-on nursing-related experience.

Three rising juniors - Sally Ketterer, Mary Kate Oldham and PJ Scarperi - completed the Certified Nursing Assistant course this past spring (while taking classes) and worked for Maris Grove this summer as CNAs,  immersed in caring for older adults, skills that will serve them well throughout their nursing careers.  This was made possible by a donation to the GIG by Maris Grove. 

The students shared the value of their summer experiences through the GIG.

·       Senior Daniel Wala:  "Throughout school, we are constantly talking about interprofessional communication. This summer being a part of Canyon Oaks I was able to witness, and be a part of, the different interdisciplinary teams that make nursing, rehabilitation, and recovery all possible and successful. The other great part of this externship is that being in a heavily Latino populated area of LA, patients have many different backgrounds and cultures. I found it a bit difficult at first adjusting to the Spanish speaking culture, but as always, good care and communication are at the forefront of nursing. It was quite easy to see how in the past, the language barrier could have influenced health outcomes, and why translators are so important in the medical field now."

·       Senior Dan Dougherty- "This opportunity working at Canyon Oaks Nursing Rehabilitation Center has benefitted me tremendously both personally and professionally. It has truly allowed me to hone my patient communication skills, as well as improving my essential nursing assessment skills. Furthermore, this internship provided me the opportunity to immerse myself within different healthcare departments, such as physical therapy and social services. In doing so, I have much more of an appreciation for what other healthcare providers do, as well as making me a more well rounded individual and more informed member of the interdisciplinary team. Overall, I am grateful to the GIG for paving the path for this opportunity and the lessons it has taught me, which I will take with me as I progress through my professional career."

·       Junior Sally Ketterer- "I am extremely grateful for the knowledge and skills I learned through my summer spent doing the GIG internship. It solidified many of the nursing fundamentals I was taught during my freshman and sophomore years, and I am much more confident and  comfortable in my nursing skills moving into clinical. This has been a wonderful start to my career in healthcare, and I am all the more excited for my future as a nurse."

·      Junior Mary Kate Oldham- "My internship this summer through the GiG has allowed me the opportunity to grow my confidence in myself as a nurse and caregiver. Through frequent patient interactions and practice with clinical skills, I feel that I have truly cemented so much of what we learn in our Nursing fundamentals and assessment classes. Additionally, by working as a CNA, I have gained an important perspective into a new role on the healthcare team. I look forward to using this insight to work cohesively with my colleagues in the future. As a young person working with the geriatric population specifically, I learned the importance of dignified end of life care while also getting to see the vibrance and energy that so many residents still radiate."

·    Junior PJ Scarperi - "This summer at Maris Grove has been a fantastic experience for me to grow as a future nurse in a wide array of facilities. In addition to applying what I have learned in my BSN education so far, earning my Certified Nurse Assistant certification has allowed me to sharpen my skills to provide holistic patient centered care. Working with such a vulnerable population, such as patients receiving hospice care, has strengthened my compassion and affirms my ambition to care for vulnerable populations. Furthermore, shadowing leaders on the Nursing team such as the Director of Nursing and Clinical Case Manager has aided in the development of my leadership skills and demonstrated what incredible leadership nurses provide for the healthcare team."