BALTIMORE – Jennifer Dickensheets had always planned on a career in healthcare, with an initial goal of becoming a pediatric doctor. When a family member was admitted to the hospital years ago, however, the resulting experience shifted her focus to nursing.
Having already received a bachelor’s degree, Dickensheets was drawn to the Accelerated 2nd Degree Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) at Notre Dame of Maryland University. She would ultimately graduate as a member of the first ABSN cohort at Notre Dame in 2020.
After first working at MedStar Good Samaritan Hospital in Baltimore as a nurse extern, Dickensheets became a full-time registered nurse in the MedSurg Telemetry unit in October 2020. She has excelled in the role, earning Rookie of the Year honors from the hospital last May.
Learn about why Dickensheets became a nurse, how Notre Dame helped prepare for her for the profession, her message for current nursing students and more:
What originally inspired you to become a nurse, and what drew you to Notre Dame’s accelerated nursing program?
I always knew I wanted to be in healthcare and originally planned to be a pediatric doctor, but I had a family member end up in the hospital when I was applying to medical school and I saw how the hospitals really worked. The nurses are the ones doing the hands-on work and seeing the patients face-to-face all day and that's what I wanted to do, so I changed career paths.
I found the accelerated nursing program interesting because I already had a bachelor’s degree in the sciences and liked the idea of not doing two more full years. It also wasn't too far from where I was living in Gaithersburg.
What was it like starting your professional career during the COVID pandemic? How have you and your colleagues managed to support each other over these past two years?
It was definitely a shock and a massive learning curve, especially after not having a practicum semester in the normal sense. But thankfully I was an extern and had a 12-hour shift once a week throughout the pandemic, so I learned a lot on the same floor I work on now. My preceptor was amazing and helped me every step of the way.
Once I became a nurse, the shortage intensified and I had to handle six or seven patients at once. But I felt like by that point I had the time management down, so it was something we were all just used to. PPE guidelines changed every week and we had to be very adaptable to change. Without my coworkers and friends from Notre Dame, I don't know how I would have managed.
How did it feel to be recognized by Good Samaritan as a Rookie of the Year?
It was quite a surprise and made me feel like I was really appreciated as a part of the team. I could do without my blushing face being all over the hospital though! Now everyone sees me and says, "Hey, I know you," but it definitely keeps me on my feet because I feel like I have to live up to it and I'm grateful for that.
How did Notre Dame help prepare you to succeed in your profession?
Notre Dame gave me a ton of clinical knowledge and managed to somehow do so in a way that I remember it very well. But the two biggest things I appreciate from my time at Notre Dame are the people/colleagues I met while there and the focus on compassion.
Compassionate nursing is in my opinion what differentiates a good nurse from a great nurse, and I have had many providers point that out about why they like when I have their patients – it provides a safe space for dialogue and a deeper level of care that makes a difference to the patients and their families. Notre Dame spent a large amount of time on compassion throughout my courses, and I appreciate that to this day.
Do you still stay in touch with anyone from the University?
We were a pretty tight-knit class as a whole, and I will say it has given me some of my best friends. My roommate is a classmate from nursing school, she even came cross country to a wedding with me in San Diego. I talk to 7-8 of my classmates on a daily basis and see them monthly even though we are at different hospitals. One of my friends from school is at Duke and I've been out to visit her multiple times. I’m even going on a trip with her and her family next month.
Is there any message you’d like to pass along to current nursing students at NDMU?
Study hard and appreciate your teachers and classmates. It's not about competition – it’s about relationships because these will be your colleagues in a few months and you'll be so thankful to know them. They’ll send you job opportunities that they think you’re a good fit for. Most importantly, nursing is not an easy profession, and they are going to be the ones who understand you when need to vent, especially in that first year out of school.
Established in 1895, Notre Dame of Maryland University (NDMU) is a private, Catholic institution in Baltimore, Maryland, with the mission to educate leaders to transform the world. Notre Dame has been named one of the best "Regional Universities North" by U.S. News & World Report.