Starting the first job after graduating from college can be an exciting and intimidating time for any young professional. Allyson Cunningham '19 began her career as a Registered Nurse in the Neurological Intensive Care Unit at Tufts Medical Center the summer after graduating from the College. In roughly six months, Cunningham jumped from entry-level nurse in the Novice Nurse program to essential healthcare worker managing care for vulnerable coronavirus patients in the critical care unit. Now, her early career success demonstrating advanced clinical judgment, advocating for patients, and aiding and training fellow novice nurses, has led Tufts Medical Center to nominate her “Rookie of the Year.”
The Tufts Medical Center and Tufts Children's Hospital honor excellence in nursing each year with an awards ceremony and will specially mark this year as "The Year of the Nurse." Nurses are nominated by their peers, leadership, and patients. Cunningham was nominated five times for the "Rookie of the Year" award, which honors a new staff nurse that exceeds role expectations and is viewed by the unit leadership team as a 'rising star.'
"Allyson came off the Novice Nurse orientation in December. In March, the Neurological ICU was re-allocated to the Medical Intensive Care Unit. As a team, we began to take care of MICU patients, a completely different patient population than any of us had cared for before," says Registered Nurse Kimberly Harrington on the award nomination form. "Seasoned nurses struggled as well, but it was really the newer nurses on the unit who had the most difficult time. Allyson seamlessly jumped into caring for MICU patients, regularly taking care of some of the unit's sickest patients. She has become a resource on the unit, despite her short time with us."
Other award nominations cited Cunningham's proactive work ethic, thoughtful bedside manner, precise attention to detail, and positive attitude for her early success working in the new role in a time of increased pressure for frontline nurses and doctors.
"Considering that we work in critical care, I do not think Allyson has ever had one patient who has not smiled or laughed with her in the room," said another nominator from the unit. "Allyson will also always take the time to do the seemingly 'small' things for her patients, which tend to have the biggest impact. She can often be seen brushing a patient's hair, reading to them, or taking the extra time to find out what kind of ‘treat’ she can find to make them smile."
As for Cunningham, she's proud that her commitment to patient care has been recognized. "When the pandemic started, it felt like everything we were trained on in orientation went out the window, and we had to learn quickly how to care for this new group of patients," she says. "It was challenging, but I grew so much as a nurse in such a short time. Of everything we've faced this year, I've given the best possible care to my patients, and I'm honored that others have taken notice."
To characterize 2020 as a challenging year to begin a career in healthcare is an understatement. Still, Cunningham believes mentorship from the Curry faculty helped prepare her for the monumental role. "The relationships I formed with the professors at Curry were instrumental to my success. If I had a bad shift during clinicals, Dr. Maureen O'Shea was the first person I'd call, and I still do," she says. "The faculty are always there for me. At Curry, I knew I had so much support and that I could get through anything."