Denise and Debbie Wasilewski have done just about everything in life together.
The identical twins from New Jersey both received scholarships to play softball at William Penn University in Iowa and both majored in biology. But a semester before graduating, the sisters had a change of heart about their majors and transferred into an Associate Degree Nursing program at Hudson County Community College closer to where they grew up in Bayonne, New Jersey. After graduating in 2004, the women started their nursing careers at Bayonne Medical Center—both in telemetry.
“I guess you could say we’re pretty similar,” laughs Debbie, who now lives in southern New Jersey, about an hour from Denise. What swayed them to switch gears so close to earning their bachelor’s degrees, Denise adds, was an experience working for a startup ambulance company during college.
A move in 2007
Debbie and Denise have each been at the same employer since 2007. Debbie joined Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in medical telemetry, stabilizing patients going through alcohol and drug withdrawals before sending them to the psychiatric or rehabilitation facility. Denise joined Morristown Medical Center as a surgical stepdown nurse, which she did for 11 years before moving into the inpatient psychiatric unit.
Inspired to go back to school
In 2014, the sisters Debbie spearheaded the sisters’ next pursuit: earning BSN degrees. Her coworker at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital was attending American Sentinel University and urged her to explore the program for herself. “I liked the flexibility of starting a class every month and I was pleased with the affordability of the program too,” Debbie says. She started the BSN in 2014 and graduated in 2016.
Debbie convinced Denise to follow her lead, but after having her first child, she put aside starting at American Sentinel until 2017. “I’ve always felt that education is so important,” says Denise, who paused her educational pursuit for a year and a half to deal with some personal matters. “Debbie going back convinced me to do so also, and I know that my hospital and many others really want nurses to hold BSN degrees now. I knew that doing this would open up the possibilities for me.” Denise will finish the BSN in early 2021.
2020: A year that changed everything
When the coronavirus pandemic hit the Tristate area, Debbie and Denise were both affected in different ways. Denise was deployed in March to work with Morristown Medical’s COVID intensive care unit for three months to manage the hospital’s surge in patients.
Debbie’s telemetry unit at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital transformed into a COVID unit and her hospital became the go-to hospital in the area for patients with the virus. She has been working on the unit since then and was featured on The Dr. Oz Show in September 2020 to share her experiences.
“I have been working with COVID patients since March and got the virus in May and was out for six weeks recovering,” Debbie says. “This year has been exhausting and challenging, and I shared on the show what it has been like treating patients and having the virus myself, and the fear and stress of all of it.”
As a psychiatric nurse, Denise too has seen the impact of COVID but in a different way. “In inpatient psych, we’re seeing more patients come in with COVID-related depression or fear of getting the virus, and we’re hospitalizing people who have never been hospitalized before,” she says. “It’s been hard for people who have had depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia as well as those who have normally managed their mental health with their primary care provider.”
Looking toward the future
As Debbie and Denise wind down 2020 and look toward 2021, both are grateful for their American Sentinel education and eager to continue to make a difference in their respective workplaces.
“This is my 17th year as a nurse and I’ve learned a lot,” Denise says. “In the BSN program, I started to understand more about evidence-based practice and the evolution of nursing and the research that goes into everything we do. It’s broadened my perspective far beyond what it was before.”
Debbie agrees, saying that the BSN helped her solidify her career and become a better nurse—and the challenges of the pandemic have helped solidify her reasons for becoming a nurse. “Nurses have really come together this year,” she says. “My coworkers and I have become very close and supported each other through it all. I love nursing and now more than ever, I see that I’m good under pressure. This year, that’s important.”
Inspired by Denise and Debbie’s stories? A BSN is ideal for nurses who want to expand their knowledge base, become more marketable and enjoy greater career stability and mobility. Specialized knowledge forms the foundation of nursing and when you acquire new knowledge, you can apply it to nursing practice in ways that enhance patient care and improve outcomes. Have you dreamed of earning your BSN, MSN or DNP? With American Sentinel, you can make that dream a reality.
Read the other student success stories for more inspiration.
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