Internship Experience: From Nurse’s Assistant to the Mayo Clinic

(UW News) – When University of Wyoming nursing student Emily Bandel first arrived at the Mayo Clinic to begin serving an internship last summer, she says she was “blown away.”

But it wasn’t the massive size of one of the world’s premier health care facilities, which employs nearly 60,000 workers and occupies most of downtown Rochester, Minn., that was so awe-inspiring to her. And it wasn’t the clinic’s reputation as being at the pinnacle of America’s health care industry, nor the extraordinary opportunity to work alongside and observe the best practitioners in her chosen profession.

Instead, it was something that Bandel had experienced many times before as a caregiver: compassion and empathy for the patients, and the opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives at a time they are most in need.

“It is so vibrant and alive. Everyone was compassionate, caring and helpful. There are some genuinely nice people there,” says Bandel, a Cheyenne resident who received her B.S.N. at UW this spring. “People come there and find hope; every one of my patients had nothing but praise for the care they received there. You are treated like a person, not just another diagnosis.”

Bandel, who was among only 111 of nearly 1,200 applicants selected for the Mayo Clinic’s 10-week summer internship program, adds, “The organization is so supportive of its employees, and you feel like one of the family.”

Such compassion, Bandel says, was what attracted her into the nursing profession at an early age. At age 14, she began to do volunteer work with her mother, a nurse who cared for cancer patients at Cheyenne’s Veterans Administration Medical Center. Bandel received her certified nursing assistant (CNA) license while a 16-year-old student at East High School. She recognized she was gifted at interacting with her patients, and knew she wanted to be a nurse.

At about that same time, her grandfather entered a hospice with terminal cancer. She says she gained a new respect for what hospices offer, and how they differ from other nursing environments. With such experiences already under her belt, it was no surprise that she chose to enroll in the UW Fay W. Whitney School of Nursing.

From a Patient’s Point of View

During her sophomore year at UW, Bandel was diagnosed with a form of leukemia and transferred from UW to Cheyenne’s Laramie County Community College to be closer to home and the doctors who treated her while she underwent chemotherapy. Even so, she kept up her studies and continued working as a CNA. She acquired an even deeper understanding of what patients experience during life-threatening illnesses.

“Work was my favorite place to be when I was sick, because taking care of others is where I feel the best,” Bandel recalls.

With her cancer in remission, she returned to UW, an educational experience that reinforced her passion to help others.

“The (School of Nursing) instructors all still have the love, drive and passion for nursing, and the small class sizes (48 students are accepted into each nursing class) are immersed in a caring environment,” she says. “You are surrounded by highly competent professionals who, if you weren’t already, make you excited about nursing.”

The UW nursing program, she says, teaches a holistic approach that goes beyond a diagnostic, clinical approach and emphasizes the importance of understanding a patient’s psychological and family support needs. Students acquire a broad understanding of how to help their patients as whole people. Bandel now serves on the development board of the Friends of the Fay W. Whitney School of Nursing.

Life-Changing Experience

All of Bandel’s education and experiences were put to use when she was assigned to work at the Mayo Clinic’s cardiopulmonary transplant unit, where she had the rare opportunity to witness a heart transplant procedure on one of her patients. Once an organ is identified and the patient is chosen, the medical team has only four hours to prepare for and start the operation. Bandel says nurses don’t normally accompany their patients into the operating room for heart transplants.

“I was there the day he got the call that an organ was available. I felt blessed to have been part of the whole journey,” she says. “I was pulling for him and, two days before I came back to Wyoming, he was able to leave the hospital, free of any equipment. It was wonderful to see the process come full cycle while I was there.”

Today, heart transplant patients can expect to survive from 15-20 years. Bandel took care of one man who had survived 23 years post-transplant.

“He was able to see his children get married, and his grandchildren being born. It was awesome to see,” Bandel says. “That’s what nursing is all about — to be able to make that kind of difference in someone’s life.”

And her opportunities to make that kind of a difference are just beginning. The Mayo Clinic liked what she did during her internship and offered her a permanent position. She will begin her duties as a staff nurse in the clinic’s hematology/oncology unit at Methodist Hospital this summer.

Internship Experiences