Alumni Spotlight: Nursing graduate says Penn State gave her the tools to succeed

January 24, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Brianna Fitzgerald, Penn State class of 2015 in nursing, grew up familiar with the nursing lifestyle as her mother was a longtime emergency room nurse. This inspired her to passionately pursue her own career in the nursing profession, beginning her journey at Penn State. She said her years at University Park were filled with great memories and valuable experiences that provided her with the tools she’s needed to succeed.

She was actively involved with SNAPS — the Student Nurses’ Association at Penn State — for which she was the SNAP convention delegate in 2013 and the SNAP Public Relations Chair in 2014 and 2015. As a member of the Alpha Xi Delta sorority, Fitzgerald was selected to be a recruitment guide (Pi Chi) in 2015. In this role, she counseled 50 potential new members as they progressed through the recruitment process. She was active in her sorority’s THON fundraising efforts and events, as well as fundraising for the Autism Speaks organization. These experiences were important to Fitzgerald and her growth as a future nurse, she said.

“My involvement with various organizations at Penn State allowed me to build relationships with a diverse group of people. This fostered strong communication and leadership skills which I utilize daily in my nursing career,” said Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald said she was able to gain tangible nursing experience throughout her undergraduate career. In 2013, she was selected as one of two rising junior interns at Yale-New Haven Hospital to be on a general neuroscience and epilepsy unit. In 2014 she worked as a nurse tech at Medstar Georgetown University Hospital on a cardiothoracic intermediate care unit. During her senior year, she worked as a home health aide for a stroke patient in the local State College area. This was a major factor in Fitzgerald’s decision to begin her career in a neuro/stroke unit. She credits Penn State’s focus on professional development for her achievements.

“Penn State encouraged me to pursue opportunities that helped me gain relevant experience, determine what nursing specialty was best for me, and prepare for the interview process,” said Fitzgerald.

Upon graduation, she accepted a job at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, where she has excelled in her career and community. Within two years of starting as a bedside stroke nurse, she was selected to be a charge and preceptor nurse — a designated unit trainer for new graduates.

“My new grad preceptees often experience a huge learning curve. I remind them to be patient throughout orientation and ask a lot of questions. I also stress the importance of always voicing a patient safety concern," she said.

Fitzgerald continues to be a leader in the hospital setting as a unit champion for numerous committees. She was selected as a Magnet Champion and was part of Georgetown’s fourth magnet designation — a title given to a staff nurse for promoting and facilitating exceptional performance and an atmosphere of excellence in their respective unit. She is a member of her unit practice council and Nurses Improving Care for the Healthsystem Elders Committee. She also played an important role in the implementation of the hospital’s first Comprehensive Stroke Center designation. This required additional stroke-specific education, the evaluation and revision of policies, and diligent work with a multidisciplinary team.

When asked about her favorite part of nursing, Fitzgerald stated, “I enjoy building connections with patients and colleagues. It is extremely rewarding to be a source of encouragement and an advocate for patients when they're going through a vulnerable time. As a member of different committees, you have the ability to make a difference organization-wide and at the bedside.”

Fitzgerald has taken initiative outside of her job as a volunteer for the American Heart Association, educating members of the community about heart health and stroke prevention. She also serves as a mentor in the Georgetown and Penn State nursing communities.

“Education is critical in the nursing field. This means not only educating our patients but our new nurses too. There is so much to learn as a new nurse and it can certainly be overwhelming. As a preceptor, I focus on encouraging my preceptees in challenging times and building their confidence in this new role.”

Through her time spent working in different areas of nursing and full-time as a bedside nurse, she hopes to continue her career as a nurse practitioner.

Outside of work and her many accomplishments, Fitzgerald loves making homemade Italian food and exploring new restaurants around D.C. On weekends when she’s not cheering on her beloved Nittany Lions, she enjoys hiking with friends and traveling.

Last Updated January 29, 2020