Name: Bryn Faulkner

Hometown: Chillicothe, Mo.

Major: Nursing with minor in American Sign Language (ASL) and deaf studies

Activities: New Spirit of Penn (NSP) Gospel Choir, Zeta Tau Alpha, Penn Singers

34th Street Magazine: Can you tell us about why you chose to pursue nursing?

I've always known that I wanted to do [health care] in some shape or form. For the longest time, I thought I was going to be a doctor. And then junior year of high school, I sat down with my mom, and she was like, “There's nothing wrong with being a doctor. But you know that you are a person who likes to connect with people, creating that kind of homey environment for people. You're not going to get that as a doctor—you're going to get that as a nurse.” So that's why I initially went into it. I like people, and I like helping them. It's who I am, and I feel like nursing has more interpersonal relationships. 

How did you become interested in American Sign Language?

In high school, we only had one option if you wanted to take a foreign language: Spanish. And so I didn't take that class because it was the only option. When I came to Penn, I had to fulfill a language requirement, and I was like, "ASL sounds fun." Going into nursing, I know that a lot of people know how to speak Spanish in hospitals, but I feel like a lot [fewer] people know how to speak ASL to deaf patients. So I said, "Why not? I'll do the four semesters." And I ended up loving it.

Are you fluent?

Not even close. I can definitely have a conversation with deaf people, but I'm nowhere near fluent.

Could you talk about your involvement in NSP Gospel Choir and theater?

So I first joined NSP my [first year] fall. Before that, I had done PennCAP, and my mentor was part of NSP. She sat me down and was like, “Not that I stalked you on Facebook, but it seemed like you were Christian.” She told me that’s all that is required if I was interested. So I was like, "Why not?" Not thinking much of it, I decided to join, and here I am, four years later. I'm president and director. 

And for musical theater, I started my [first year] spring. I've always done theater in high school. That's something I'd grown up doing, and it was just really fun to me. I like the building side of it—using saws and everything. And I also really like the performing side. I love being in this position to see two totally different groups on campus, and it's just a lot of fun getting to see people use their creative sides.

Would you say there's any connection between your interest in music and theater and your work as a student nurse?

I feel like people who are part of performing arts tend to be inherently more open minded. It's really important in nursing that you keep an open mind because it doesn't matter what your patient looks like, where they're from, their economic status—you're there to help them get better. Having a performing arts background has definitely solidified that aspect of my job as a future nurse.

What experiences at Penn have most shaped your time here?

My sophomore year, I was on an oncology floor. I was with a patient, and she'd been there for a while. I was able to sit down and talk to her for a little bit. The patient had been losing her hearing and voice because of the type of cancer that she had. She told me, “I tried to learn American Sign Language, but I'm an old Black woman. When I tried to learn years ago, they wouldn't let me into the schools. They wouldn't let me learn this language that I knew that I would need.”

She said that now she’s learning ASL, but she still doesn’t know much. It really just hit me: Our patients have their entire lives before coming to the hospital that we don't see. We only see them when they're at the most vulnerable point in their lives. It made me realize how important having these conversations is because I wonder if any of her doctors knew these things.

How do you get patients to open up and connect on a deeper level?

I personally like to start by having conversations. That's pretty basic, like, “Where are you from?” or, “What's your name?” Then I try to pick up clues, like if they have children. For that patient from earlier, she had asked what I was doing in school other than nursing, so I brought up my American Sign Language minor. She told me how she had been trying to learn ASL, and so that's how the conversation got started. 

I feel like the most important thing is just being available to have those conversations. People in hospitals can be really lonely, and those conversations can really change their demeanor. As a student nurse and future nurse, I have that opportunity to better understand a patient's story before they come to the hospital.

What are your plans after Penn?

There's about a million and one different options right now. Directly after I graduate, I want to work on a pediatric oncology floor somewhere. At some point, I would like to go back to get my Ph.D. in nursing so I can work as a clinical nurse specialist. Basically, CNS's are liaisons between research and hospitals, so they make sure that hospitals are using evidence–based practices and integrating new technology.

Lightning Round

What's your favorite song to listen to?

I've been listening to a lot from the Hadestown musical. It's wonderful, I’m a big fan.

What's your favorite song to sing?

"Breathe" from In the Heights.

What are you dressing up as for Halloween?

I’m going to be Blossom from the Power Puff Girls. It’s kind of a group costume I’m doing with my friends.

There are two types of people at Penn …

Those who eat on campus,  and those who will SEPTA an hour and a half for Georgian Bread

And you are?

Definitely the type to get Georgian Bread.

This article has been edited and condensed for clarity.