From the Classroom to the Cancer Unit: My Summer as a Flynn Fellow

Nina Gonzales, NUR ’24, Irvine, CA

If I could summarize the summer of 2023 in one word, it would be “cancer.” I had them incredible opportunity to be accepted into the Flynn Fellowship at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. It is an Oncology-specific fellowship that allows nursing students to learn about all aspects of Oncology medicine, from the bedside inpatient, outpatient chemotherapy infusion sites, shadowing Advanced Practice Providers, Transplant Coordinators, Ethics Managers, to hearing survivors’ stories while meeting with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. This experience has been defining in my journey as a nursing student, teaching me more about empathy, resilience, and appreciating life and family.

I spent the majority of my time working at 14 Center, the top floor of HUP Pavillion, which mostly treated liquid cancer patients. I learned so much about everything related to cancer, from the nursing skills at the bedside, like setting up IV medications or wound dressing changes, to physiology and explanations behind lab values, interpreting telemetry monitors and EKGs, but I think the most valuable lessons I learned and will take with me for the rest of my life center around the people I met. This experience was the first time I was consistently faced with death and severe illness. One of the most challenging parts of working with these patients was navigating through the emotional toll that it takes on everyone, from the patients and their families to me. I cannot count the amount of times I held back tears and my heart hurt, from witnessing patients and families come to terms with their prognosis. It was a struggle to keep myself “separate” from the situations, like how my preceptors advised me—it is human nature to empathize. I worked hard to be there for my patients, getting to know them and forming good friendships especially by the end of my summer. It was nice to see many of them leave the unit healthier and stronger than when they first came in, filled with hope for the future.

My experiences as a nursing student in the Oncology unit was transformative, shaping my perspective on my purpose in life. It helped me understand more about the value of time with loved ones, especially family, and appreciate the privileges I currently have, even the small things like being able to walk outside for fresh air. Due to this experience, I want to pursue a career in Oncology nursing, and the lessons I learned, as well as the connections I made will follow me for a lifetime.

This is part of a series of posts by recipients of the 2023 Career Services Summer Funding Grant. We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they spent their summer. You can read the entire series here

By Career Services
Career Services