Born with a congenital heart defect, Megan Laubacher (N ‘24) spent the first few weeks of her life in the hospital surrounded by medical professionals. Yet among all of the surgeons, pediatricians, and cardiologists, one group always stood out to Megan’s family: nurses.
“The best stories in the hospital came from my time spent with the nurses,” Megan says. Over two decades later, Megan’s family is still connected to the nurses who cared for her as a newborn, most notably the nurse who took Megan off the plane when she was airlifted to a different hospital.
“I wanted to be able to give back and do the same for others,” Megan says of her choice to apply to nursing school. Now, Megan is a senior at the School of Nursing, Penn’s smallest undergraduate school with just over 100 students per class. This spring, Megan will graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing with a minor in Health Service Management.
While students across campus work tirelessly on problem sets and participate class discussions, Megan is getting true “hands–on” instruction. At the Simulation Lab, which takes up an entire floor in Fagin Hall, she treats robot mannequins in renowned facilities that mirror real–life healthcare settings. “They act like normal patients! They have a pulse, heart rate, and blood pressure and can also give birth and report symptoms,” she says. After three years of training with this remarkable, state–of–the–art robot technology, Megan has mastered skills such as changing a chest tube drain and inserting a nasogastric tube.
But Megan's most valuable experiences occur outside the walls of Fagin Hall and in hospitals and clinics all around West Philly. “I feel like I learn so much more being out in the hospital than I do when I'm in the classroom,” she says.
Throughout their time at Penn, each Nursing student will venture to various clinics in West Philly, in fields such as obstetrics, general medicine care, psychology, pediatrics, and community health. Megan will complete 800 hours of clinical practice by the time she graduates, shadowing nurses in these facilities and even having the opportunity to apply her knowledge and skill sets to real patients. This experiential learning culminates during their senior years when students complete two 12–hour shifts of clinical practice per week in the field they hope to join post–graduation. “You work and feel like a real nurse in that situation,” Megan says.
With hopes of practicing pediatrics post–grad, Megan shares that she’s the happiest working at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “I absolutely love the little kids,” she says.
While Megan rejoices in the unique connections she has formed with her patients at CHOP, she’s also been exposed to the underlying issues within the health care industry, especially in the mental health sector. Working at the Kirkbride Center, an alcohol and drug rehab facility, Megan noticed that the facility was underfunded and lacked a positive working atmosphere, which resulted in negative patient care. In spite of these difficulties, she sought to provide a support system for her patients.
Megan formed a connection with one patient in particular who only spoke Spanish and was unable to communicate with any of the nurses. “I created these whiteboards for the patient, where his whiteboard was in Spanish and the nurses' whiteboard was in English. This way, they would communicate through a circle system: The patient could circle which medications he wanted, what symptoms he was feeling, or if he needed a blanket or food,” Megan says. “It was a very, very special moment that only a nursing student could get. It just felt so good to do that for somebody.”
Nursing has provided Megan with a community of like–minded peers and faculty who also love to support others. “We're all extremely collaborative. Every single time there's a test, there's people sending resources, study guides, and Quizlets. The faculty are really great, and they want to work with you,” she says. “Everybody wants to see everybody succeed.”
Throughout her time at Penn, Megan has explored her other interests through fun and creative outlets: She is a tour guide for Kite and Key, a tap dancer for Soundworks Tap Factory, and a member of Alpha Omega Epsilon, a pre–professional sorority for women in STEM. “I wouldn't do all these extracurriculars if I didn't enjoy them just as much as doing all these clinical hours. If you enjoy it, you find the time, and the work always gets done; it really does,” Megan says. “It’s a total change of pace from nursing.”
Megan has been “pleasantly surprised” by Penn’s overall support, kindness, and positive energy towards nurses. “I feel like the Penn community as a whole really values having Nursing students in their organizations and in their social circles. Whenever I mention that I'm a Nursing student, instantly people light up and they're like ‘We love nursing students, and we're so excited to have you here,’” she says.
After graduation, Megan plans on working for a year or two in a pediatric hospital setting, and then hopes to return to Penn to get her master’s degree as a nurse practitioner. “Eventually, I’d love to work in a family health center or even open my own practice,” she says. As Megan approaches her final year as an undergrad, she is just getting closer to changing people's worlds like the nurses she had as an infant.