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Pawsitivity: College of Medicine students boost nursing students’ spirits during isolation

The group of 144 third- and fourth-year nursing students who came to Hershey at the end of August to start clinical rotations were expecting a lot of new experiences, but not the first one they got.

To prevent any possible spread of COVID-19, they were quarantined for 10 days and had to test negative for the virus before being cleared to return to in-person clinical training.

That’s when some College of Medicine students decided to go out of their way to extend a warm welcome despite the unwelcome start to the students’ Hershey experience.

“While I was reading the announcement that the nursing students were going into quarantine, I couldn’t help but think of my wife, Amy Drago, who happens to be a nurse here in the Heart and Vascular ICU,” said third-year medical student David Drago. “I was thankful that she didn’t have to experience anything like that when she was a student, but I also would have wanted her to feel supported if she were in that position.”

Recalling comments from first-year medical students who also had to quarantine upon arrival, Drago came up with the idea of connecting sympathetic medical students with nursing students who might need some support. “It just felt like the logical thing to do,” he said.

Drago got permission from the administration and reached out to fellow medical students Callie Pina and Gianna Dafflisio for help.

A paper bag with the words “Stay Strong” written on it sits outside a door of a brick building.

A special delivery waits outside the door of quarantining nursing students.

The pair met with Alexis Boone, president of the Student Nurses Association at Penn State, to devise a plan that entailed contacting medical students to see if they were willing to volunteer – more than 50 were – and asking quarantined nursing students about their needs. Then they matched the volunteers with the requests.

Medical students made and delivered baked goods, ran errands and, for one student with a dog, delivered dog food and treats.

Kathryn Carlisle, a second-year medical student, led a virtual workout session. “I can definitely say we all left feeling a little sore, but in great moods,” she said.

Although most of the nursing students were housed on campus, the medical students made a special effort to connect with those in hotels.

“We figured it must be incredibly lonely and boring to be by yourself in a hotel room, so we wanted to be proactive about providing them with a morale boost, regardless of whether or not they requested one,” Dafflisio said.

The feedback from quarantined students was swift – they were “incredibly appreciative” of both the acts of kindness and the spirit behind them, she said.

Drago gave a shout out to Dr. Emmanuelle Williams, associate dean for student affairs, and Jennifer Barton, College of Nursing Hershey campus coordinator, for taking the time on Labor Day weekend to enable the effort.

Students said the experience helped them feel connected to the larger College of Medicine community.

“As a first-year student new to this school and the area, I have definitely experienced and witnessed the challenges associated with forming connections and building community during a pandemic,” Pina said. “This effort felt like one small way to try to do so during this unique time.”

“And at the end of the day,” Dafflisio said, “You’re never too busy to help out those who need it.”

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