Westbrook, Conn. resident to graduate URI as top nursing student

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KINGSTON, R.I. – May 4, 2009 – After starting her college career as a marine biology major in North Carolina, Elsa Fennelly changed her major to nursing and transferred to the University of Rhode Island. It was the right choice. The Westbrook, Conn., resident will graduate from URI on May 17 as the recipient of the President’s Award for Student Excellence in Nursing.

“Nursing gives me the best of both worlds,” she said. “It merges my interest in science with my desire to help people.”

Recently indicted into the international nursing honor society Sigma Theta Tau and a tutor for nursing and psychology classes, Fennelly was excited by the wide array of clinical opportunities her nursing education provided.

“We got to see all the different nursing jobs that we could potentially have,” Fennelly said. “You could change jobs every year to something totally different, all with the same degree, and we can work almost anywhere we want. There are so many opportunities available with a nursing degree.”

Fennelly said that her most interesting clinical rotation was in the Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgical Intensive Care Unit at The Miriam Hospital in Providence. She worked one-on-one with a nurse caring for patients immediately after they have had open-heart surgery.

“I really like helping someone feel comfortable, feel calm, feel safe,” she said. “A lot of anxiety goes along with having surgery, especially heart surgery, so being the one to keep them comfortable and get them through it makes you feel good at the end of the day.”

Fennelly also enjoys psychiatric nursing and looks fondly back at the semester she spent working at the Newport County Community Mental Health Center.

In addition to her academic and clinical work, Fennelly also served as president of the URI Student Nurses Association, which promotes nursing as a career, conducts fundraising drives for medical research, and whose members serve as mentors to new nursing students. In 2008 she attended the National Student Nursing Association conference in Texas, which she said was an excellent opportunity to learn about career development and explore nursing options.

As she prepares to graduate, Fennelly looks forward to taking a few weeks off to travel to Europe before continuing her job search. Eventually, she hopes to attend graduate school to expand her nursing knowledge even farther.

“I’ve been encouraged by others to get a graduate degree, and that’s something that I definitely want to do,” she said. “I’m always curious about things, and after a while of working as a nurse I picture myself wanting to learn more about one aspect of nursing, but I don’t know now what that one thing is. I bet that someday, though, I’ll have an epiphany.”