As a student at Saints John Neumann and Maria Goretti Catholic High School, Stephanie Kelly decided on a career in nursing. For her, it was not simply a desire to change the world through the science; it was much more personal.
Now a 20-year-old sophomore enrolled in the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, the South Philadelphia native decided to become a nurse when her father was diagnosed with stage 3B lung cancer. An advanced stage of cancer, 3B is a tumor of any size that has spread to distant lymph nodes or invaded other structures in the chest, like the heart or esophagus. While not curable, this stage is still treatable.
“I was very interested in his care and was intrigued by the way the nurses interacted with him, making the process much easier,” she says.
When he died only a few months after starting treatment and her mom also became ill, Kelly knew that she wanted to become a nurse. At the time, she was only a freshman in high school.
Like many students, Kelly applied to several local colleges. But, she fell in love with Penn after attending the nursing preview weekend, meeting the faculty and spending the weekend on campus with a student.
“I’d always heard that Penn had the best nursing school in the country, but I never thought it was something that I would be able to be a part of,” Kelly remembers. “After preview weekend, I knew that Penn was where I belonged.”
And now that she is an undergraduate student here, Kelly helps others who are interested in coming to Penn. A member of the Kite and Key Society, Penn’s largest and oldest service organization, she hosts students overnight for the University and serves as an ambassador for Penn, showing potential students what it’s really like to be a part of the Ivy League.
Thanks to the University’s financial-assistance program, students like Kelly contribute to the student body’s diversity.
“Penn helps me cover my books, health insurance, housing and dining plan,” Kelly explains. “I would not be able to attend this university without Penn’s generosity.” In fact, Kelly says the financial aid is “a godsend.”
Recently, her mother was diagnosed with leukemia and has suffered with other health problems. Kelly spends her weekends at home, helping to take care of her.
“The education I am receiving at Penn Nursing is allowing me to understand many of the things that are going on, which helps me bring peace of mind to my family simply by understanding the things that I’m learning,” Kelly says.
Kelly says that her professors have been very supportive and understanding about her situation.
“The resources that are provided for me have really helped me grow in this experience. They give me hope that I will be able to overcome this challenge that my family has been faced with –- and that I’m not alone.”
She also says that they have been flexible in accommodating her needs.
In addition to being a full-time student, ambassador and caregiver, Kelly is also a student liaison for one of her nursing courses this semester. As a liaison, she represents the students enrolled in the class and meets with professors to talk about the course, providing suggestions based on student requests.
Looking ahead, Kelly says that she hopes to take advantage of summer research opportunities, and she is interested in exploring the nursing field in the clinical setting. She has considered oncology but knows that her clinical experiences will help to guide her in the right direction when it comes to choosing a specific area of focus.
Even though she’s not sure what she wants to do after graduation in 2015, Kelly recognizes that Penn Nursing – and Penn’s financial-aid assistance -- has provided her with a plethora of pathways from which to choose.
“I have been considering attending school to earn my master’s degree in nursing in hopes to become a nurse practitioner,” Kelly says. “I do want to see what it is like to be a floor nurse and also narrow down my specific area of interest before I go back to school.”