Penn Nursing Student’s Family Ties Propel Him Forward

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Media Contact:Jill DiSanto | | 215-898-4820April 9, 2013

“Well-rounded” just doesn’t seem to cover it.  Nor does “always busy.”

Andrew Dierkes, 19, is a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania, but, he’s no ordinary undergraduate.

When he’s not occupied with his studies as a full-time nursing student, Dierkes can be found working at one of his two part-time jobs. 

As the manager of “Dinner with Gregory” at the Gregory College House, he schedules intimate dinners between small groups of students and faculty members or other notable figures on campus.  It is a tradition that facilitates student interaction with Penn’s faculty in an informal setting that varies greatly from typical classroom experiences. 

In his other part-time job, Dierkes is the organist for the 11:30 a.m. Sunday mass at St. Donato Roman Catholic Church in Philadelphia.  Once in a while, he will be called in as a substitute organist at other nearby parishes, including St. Matthias in Bala Cynwyd or St. Anastasia in Newtown Square.

The third oldest of eight children who were all home schooled until high school, Dierkes says that growing up in this unusually large family situation shaped who he is today. 

“Families of this size are increasingly rare and perhaps the qualities and character such a situation naturally develops are following a similar trend,” he says.

Each child in the Dierkes household, with the exception of his youngest brother who has not yet begun piano lessons, plays at least two musical instruments.  They jam together at home, and they’ve played music for weddings and local high school musical theater productions.

When he’s not working, Dierkes is involved with his multiple extra-curricular activities, including MAN-UP, an organization promoting men in the nursing field and men’s health; the Daily Pennsylvanian student newspaper, where he is a photographer; and the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, which prepares participants for initiation in the Roman Catholic Church. He organizes a curriculum and runs weekly educational sessions to help people learn about the Catholic faith.

As a part of Penn For Life, the University’s pro-life group, he recently hopped a bus with nearly 40 other students and alums from Penn, Drexel University and Temple University to participate in the pro-life march on Washington to mark the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

An Eagle Scout who was born and raised in nearby Drexel Hill, Pa., Dierkes comes from a long line of medical professionals.  His grandfather is a doctor, his mother a nurse.  His sister, who graduated from Penn Nursing just last year, is now working at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

He attended the all-male St. Joseph’s Preparatory School in Philadelphia and says that attending nursing school is the exact opposite.  In his sophomore class of 100 students, Dierkes is among the 6 percent who are male.

“College is different.  It is beneficial to learn with and work alongside my peers, both male and female,” Dierkes explains.  “By the simple nature of the nursing curriculum and the small class size, students often work closely together.  This is especially true in practicing clinical skills.”

When applying for college, Dierkes saw two paths from which to choose. 

“The first was to pursue the pre-med requirements alongside another major,” he says.

But, he admits to being uneasy about that option because he felt as though he was committing to numerous years of education without ever really experiencing the profession itself until many years after entering the program. 

The second path was nursing. 

Nursing on the other hand offers clinical experiences built into the curriculum,” Dierkes explains.  “In a very ‘hands-on’ way, I can explore the medical world and determine where I best fit.”

Dierkes chose nursing.  He recognized how changes in health-care legislation would have an impact that the role of medical professionals could play in the future. 

“As a nurse, I will be entering a position of ever-growing authority and autonomy, especially with a graduate degree,” he explains. 

While he’s not sure which part of the field he wants to specifically focus on, Dierkes hopes this will become clearer once he starts rotating through clinical sites as a part of Penn’s Nursing curriculum

“My clinical interests tend to be in the acute care setting, but I have also explored research and administrative positions within nursing,” he says. “Part of me would like to pursue a career as a flight nurse to combine my childhood love of flight with my interests in medicine and acute care.

“Some see my male colleagues and I as the wave of the future as more males enter careers in nursing,” he says. 

Currently, 11 percent of the undergraduate students at Penn Nursing are male.  The national average is 7 percent.

“These days, there seems to be quite a bit of pressure on young men who are interested in the medical field to pursue medical school and become a doctor.  The medical world needs both doctors and nurses,” Dierkes says.  “It’s important for people to understand that these careers differ in many ways and that, in order to discern where you fit into the fabric of the health-care system, people interested in medical careers should honestly consider both options.”

Dierkes will graduate in 2015.