WHILE STILL at Watkinson, Erin Malley ’07 realized that she had a passion for women’s and reproductive health. A big part of that, she says, came from taking Anatomy & Physiology as an elective science course. She said that every teacher at Watkinson who learned of her passion for medicine and reproductive health really worked hard to encourage it. Mr. Crosson was her advisor, and, for Senior Recognition Night, gave her a National Geographic book that she still has called In the Womb, which features special photography depicting human development during pregnancy. Mr. Ullram helped find science-focused colleges that would be a good fit. She truly felt surrounded and supported by teachers who valued her ambitions and wanted her to succeed in her dreams. “I still can’t believe that I get to do what I love every day for work!” Erin says. She is is currently working at Stony Brook University Hospital in Long Island, New York, where she is a Labor & Delivery nurse. Before that, she worked at the esteemed hospital of the University of Michigan.
LIKE ERIN, Maja Matwiejczuk ’10 especially enjoyed taking the Anatomy & Physiology course during her junior year. She is so grateful, she recalls, for the extra attention she received as a student at Watkinson; she says it is the place where she was encouraged to pursue a degree in healthcare. Maja graduated from Central Connecticut State University in 2015. From 2015-2017 she worked as a new graduate registered nurse at Hartford Hospital’s Emergency Department. Maja earned her Masters in Nursing Science from Simmons University in 2018 and began her career as a Nurse Practitioner (APRN) at a medical/cosmetic dermatology office, where she practices today. In 2017 Maja married fellow Watkinson alumnus Joey Kalinosky ’08.
WE WERE interested to learn that two of our alumnae work in step-down units at Hartford Hospital. Mary O’Brien ’10 originally headed to Syracuse University for a degree in fine art photography, but soon decided that was not the road she was meant to take. After graduating from Syracuse with degrees in both Fine Arts and Anthropology, Mary entered UCONN’s Certified Entry Into Nursing Program (CEIN), which is a one-year accelerated program for people with degrees in non-medical fields. Mary now works at Hartford Hospital in the Neuro-Trauma Unit, which helps patients with a head injury, stroke, seizure, brain tumor or spinal cord injury.
When we asked Mary if any of the skills she had developed at Watkinson directly encouraged her interest in nursing, she was clear: “public speaking and group projects.” In addition, she said, Watkinson’s mission statement “to shape the world and the world around you” has resonated with her throughout her time as a nurse. She says, “A large part of nursing is patient advocacy. It is my responsibility as their nurse to keep my patients’ best interest and wishes in mind; even when it may go against what the doctors are planning. I must shape my patients’ world and experience to match their wishes.
“During the COVID crisis,” Mary continues, “my unit was converted to an COVID + ICU. It was quite a change. We do not deal with intubated patients; but overnight our patient population had changed and every patient was intubated. We had to learn how to administer new medications, new protocols and how to use ventilators. We were supported with ICU nurses, but it was a stressful time. My team was strong and worked together, everyone was offering a hand. At times it was scary, at times it was sad, but we had a handful of happy moments that kept us going. The hardest part was having to face time with family members as they said their last goodbyes. But I was happy to be there for the families and our patients in those last moments, holding the hand of their loved one.
“I have learned so much through the past few months,” says Mary. “I was always interested in moving to an ICU setting; this experience has made me even more interested in moving to critical care. As of today (May 22), our floor has returned somewhat to normal; we discharged the last COVID patient we had yesterday.”
AFTER GRADUATING with a degree in Biomolecular Science from Central Connecticut State University, Amela Sulejmanovic ’12 received her nursing degree from the University of St. Joseph. She is now a Registered Nurse in a step-down unit at Hartford Hospital, where she helps attend the hospital patients who leave the intensive-care unit but still need constant monitoring of health and medical conditions, including heart rate and rhythm, blood pressure, blood oxygen, respiration, and other conditions.
Amela says Watkinson was one of her “biggest blessings.” The teachers and friends she met there played a huge role in who she is today and the academics pushed her to be successful. She says she was never afraid to speak up in class or to seek extra help because Watkinson instilled those self advocacy and leadership skills in her. She is proud of all the chances she took at Watkinson — from playing sports to creating art to participating in plays — and, because of her positive experience with those risks, she was not afraid to try new things throughout life after Watkinson. Those Watkinson experiences, Amela says, played a significant role in her becoming a nurse.
We spoke to Amela at the end of April about her experiences during the pandemic. “Although I do not work on a positive covid floor, you truly never know who has the virus,” Amela emailed us, “so I take all the precautions I can in order to keep myself safe, but mainly to keep my patients safe. They are a vulnerable population and helping them during such a hard time is a privilege and I have never been more proud to be a nurse! I am keeping my faith strong during this time and I truly believe that we will all get through this, stronger than before!”