Nursing family celebrates the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife

Natalie DeSouza
June 02, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — As nurses stand on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic every day, it is apparent to the world that strengthening and recognizing nursing is pivotal for improving health worldwide. The World Health Organization has deemed 2020 the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife to spotlight the roles nurses have in our society and the achievements of nurses that have helped in bettering healthcare across nations. This is the first time the nursing profession has been included in the annual recognition of professions by the World Health Organization. This gives families around the world the opportunity to celebrate their loved ones in nursing on a national scale.

For the families of Penn State nursing students Claire Beno and Anna Beno, the importance and vast flexibility of nursing has been a theme throughout their family. Watching their mother, aunts and grandmother work as nurses in various fields; they were excited to see what opportunities nursing presented for them.

Their grandmother, Maryanne Sweeney, graduated from the Charles E. Gregory School of Nursing in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, in 1962. After attending a few years at Seton Hall University, she worked as a supervisor for orthopedics surgery at Perth Amboy General Hospital and was a clinical instructor in the operating room as well.

After becoming pregnant with her first child, Kellie, Maryanne Sweeney halted from working in the hospital setting until the mid-1980's when her children were in their teenage years. When she returned, many procedures and technicalities changed in the operating room, but Sweeney jumped right back into the flow of work.

“It was pretty cool that she was able to pick it up and go back to where she left off after years,” Kellie Beno, Sweeney’s daughter, said. “I was pretty impressed how she had no fear jumping back into it especially with all the changes in technology and the different procedures that were being done. My mom has no fear of anything.”

Beno remembers that as a child, her and her siblings would dress as nurses for Halloween and try on their mother’s old nursing capes and caps from her capping ceremony. Growing up, she and her two sisters were all attracted by the nursing field and went into different roles as nurses.

In high school, Beno saw a documentary on the television about surgery and anesthesia and became interested in going into the field of medical anesthesia in the future. Sweeney told her that she could become a nurse that gives anesthesia and that sparked Beno’s interest of becoming a nurse in something different than what her mom did.

Beno continued her studies, attending Villanova University as an undergraduate and working as a neonatal intensive care nurse for a few years, before returning to school at St. Joseph’s University/Lankenau Hospital School of Nurse Anesthesia for her master's in nursing. Since 1994, she has been working as a nurse anesthetist.

“You can be a bedside nurse, you can work in the hospital and the clinical area, but then there’s other areas you can work as well,” Beno said. “Maybe, the hands-on bedside isn’t for you but maybe doing studies for insurance companies work, or attorneys' offices. There is a lot of flexibility in nursing as far as do you want to work part-time or full-time, weekends or just weekdays.”

The different roles are apparent in the different paths Kellie Beno’s sisters took in nursing. Her middle sister, Kathy Gee, enrolled in a five-year integrated Hotel and Restaurant Management program at the University of Delaware. However, within a month of graduating with her degree, she enrolled in the Helene Fuld School of Nursing.

Gee now has a master's in healthcare administration and works at AmeriHealth in New Jersey. She is a quality management specialist and has has not worked in the clinical setting except for a few years as an RN in the Philadelphia Prison System.

Nurse administrators encompass skills they have learned in the nursing field with executive-level professional skills to provide strategic management of nursing personnel, patient care, and facility resources in a health care setting. They strive to help the health care facility operate in the safest and most cost-effective manner. The job-outlook growth rate according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics for Nurse Administrators and managers was 18% for the years between 2018-20, a faster rate of growth than most other professions.

Beno’s youngest sister, Kolleen Casey, graduated from the Rutgers University nursing program and worked as a pediatric ER nurse for many years. She now works for Syneo Health Solutions as a clinical nurse educator. She provides in-home patient education on specialty medications.

Nurse educators specialize in translating best-practices and evidence-based approaches into curriculum that is designed to educate the next generation of nurses. This role is vital to the future of nursing and the quality of patient care. According to, “Nurse educators play a pivotal role in strengthening the nursing workforce, serving as role models and providing the leadership needed to implement evidence-based practice.” Currently, there are over 50,000 nurse educators in the United States.

The story of nursing in the Sweeney family does not stop there — Kellie Beno's daughters, Claire and Anna, are now exploring their options as nurses at the College of Nursing.

Initially wanting to go into business, Claire Beno remembers her interest in nursing starting after shadowing her mother’s colleagues in the operating room during her senior year of high school.

“I knew nursing was more me when I took my first 'entry level' class, anatomy,” Claire Beno said. “By far my favorite two nursing classes were pathophysiology and pharmacology. While many students at Penn State struggle with those two classes, they were my favorite and made me realize how much I liked the health care field and learning about drugs and diseases.”

This summer Claire Beno starts at an externship at Georgetown MedStar in the surgical ICU (intensive care unit). She said she plans to gain work experience upon graduation with the ultimate goal of going to graduate school to become a certified registered nurse anesthetist like her mom.

“I really liked shadowing in the NICU at Hershey and I can see myself working in a unit like that,” Claire Beno said. “This summer, I hope, can tell me a little bit more about myself and see if I do like working with the adult ICU population, as well as where in the country I want to work post-grad, whether it be near home or farther away.”

Throughout her years at Penn State, Claire Beno said, she has grown close with many of the College of Nursing’s faculty and staff and credits them for inspiring her in addition to her family.

“My conversations with my clinical instructors, specifically Mary Anne Ventura and Alaina Smelko, played a crucial role, because I was trying to figure out if nursing was for me,” she said. “They gave me the reassurance I needed to truly accept that nursing was for me.”

As for Claire's sister, Anna Beno, she said she also was greatly inspired by her mother, and aspires to become a certified registered nurse anesthetist as well.

“Ever since I was younger my mom would come home from work at 3 p.m. and she always came home happy,” Anna Beno said. “What I love about nursing school is that it is hands-on. It is not just a major where you are reading a book but rather practicing what you have learned.”

Kellie Beno urged any high school senior or current nursing student to remember the different avenues nursing holds that can help satisfy anyone’s interests. From forensic nursing to nurse scientists, there are hundreds of different career options available in the nursing field. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 19% growth rate for nurse researchers between the years 2012 and 2022.

“There are so many different options available and that's what got me excited about my daughters pursuing nursing as well,” Kellie Beno said. “Where you go from there is limitless.”

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Last Updated June 03, 2020