Commencement 2013: Early experiences, work ethic propel URI nursing alumna to job with Sloan-Kettering

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Former Exeter resident, December grad working in Gotham

KINGSTON, R.I. – May 6, 2013 – From the moment her little sister was born, Trystan Del Tufo was learning to become a nurse.

“My little sister was born with a serious congenital heart defect requiring three open heart surgeries,” said the former Exeter resident and recent University of Rhode Island graduate, who was around 12 years old at the time. “I really admired the way the nurses took care of her, and I really liked the science of it, learning about what was going on with her heart and how I could help.”

Thankfully, her sister is healthy and thriving and Del Tufo, who earned her bachelor’s degree in nursing in December, is now a nurse at Memorial Sloan- Kettering Cancer Center in New York. She has been working there since April along with fellow URI nursing alumna Jessica Brens. The two are now roommates.

The first in her family to graduate from college, Del Tufo has found inspiration and learning opportunities in what could only be described as an exhausting number of jobs, internships and community service commitments. It’s a safe bet that she will be well prepared for the demands, commitments and stresses at one of the nation’s leading cancer centers.

In the last year of her nursing program, she was a paid classroom behavior specialist at The Bradley School in South Kingstown. From 2010 to 2012, she was a resident assistant for URI’s Department of Housing and Residential Life and a nursing tutor who helped fellow nursing students in the Pathways to Nursing Program, an initiative to support minorities in nursing. She has completed hundreds of hours of community service at the West Warwick Youth Center, Women & Infants Hospital and URI. She was vice president of the URI Student Nurses Association.

She was also a recipient of the Narragansett Indian School Scholarship and the Nursing Foundation of Rhode Island Scholarship. She is a member of the Onyx Senior Honor Society Chapter, and the Sigma Theta Tau International nursing honor society.

Her resume doesn’t even include the jobs she held at such restaurants as Chili’s and Junction Trattoria Bistro, some of which she held simultaneously.

“It was very important for me to work hard and seek every opportunity,” said Del Tufo, who is working in the gastrointestinal unit at Sloan-Kettering. “I went to URI when I was 17, and I became an RA, so I could live there. Then I moved to an apartment in Warwick. Having one job is going to be bliss for me.”

Raised by a single mother, Del Tufo was inspired by the URI nursing students in Talent Development, a program that provides support to URI students from economically stressed communities. She was also enrolled in Talent Development.

“It was just amazing to work with these students who come from many different backgrounds, and to see them accomplish so much,” Del Tufo said. “I often cooked for them because I love them so much. On my last day, when they knew I wasn’t coming back, they got me a teddy bear and Alex & Ani bracelet. I am also grateful to have been a student in Talent Development. Without it, I would not have been able to get into a great school like URI.

“I am going to miss tutoring every summer, and I am going to miss Sharon Forleo (the associate director of Talent Development). She has been with me every one of my four years. She is an incredible woman, and she did so much for me.”

In terms of her own education, Del Tufo’s favorite was the clinical rotations.

“I loved working with the patients,” she said. “Geriatrics was my first rotation. I could tell how much of an impact made on them because we had great conversations. It was great because people don’t respect older adults the way they should, and they don’t realize the wisdom that older adults possess from years of experience.”

During her maternity rotation, “I helped a deliver a baby, and it was such a miracle.”

She credits her URI nursing professors with working hard to get to know each student individually.

“You can really build on relationships with the professors,” said Del Tufo. “The clinical instructors are very understanding, because they know it’s the first time you are doing some of these things. They know you are nervous.”

Del Tufo said her job at Bradley, which she learned about during a URI career fair, helped her develop her communication skills further and helped her work with young people of various ages. She worked with students from 4 to 22 years old with developmental delays. Her primary student was a boy on the autism spectrum.

“When I started, he wouldn’t even look at me, and he wouldn’t call me by name,” Del Tufo said. “After I had taken a couple of weeks off and I returned, he touched me and asked if I missed him. That was so amazing.

“At Bradley I learned that communication skills are critical,” she said. “With autism for instance, tone can make a world of difference,” adding that working with little ones helped her realize she would eventually like to work in pediatric oncology. “Kids in oncology have delays in areas such as academic achievement and social interaction as a result of multiple hospitalizations, and Bradley prepared me for that.”

She said she is blessed to be working at Sloan-Kettering and to have a friend as a roommate and colleague in New York.

She and Jessica are now enrolled in a four- to six-month training program at Sloan-Kettering, during which they will take classes, shadow veteran nurses and then move into a full caseload. She’ll be working a 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift.

“I was searching so many different hospitals, and Jessica was talking about how she landed an internship at Sloan-Kettering. Her father works there and he forwarded my resume to the nurse manager. When I tell people I am working at Sloan-Kettering, they always have great things to say about it. It’s a great teaching hospital and it has a great training program for nurses. The RNs are treated with so much respect and the employees are cheerful and upbeat.”

Even though she has only been at the cancer center since April, she has been involved in some life changing experiences.

“It has a pediatric prom for the youngest toddlers to the teens in pediatrics,” Del Tufo said. “It’s an amazing night during which youngsters get to interact with each other, dress up to feel like beautiful young ladies and handsome young men, while enjoying a few hours free of conversations about cancer.

“The cancer patients, who despite their cancer diagnoses, are so full of life and so resilient. They remind me why my job is important and how it makes such a difference.”

Communications & Marketing photo by Nora Lewis.