When Gabrielle Smyser was just 10 years old, she knew she wanted to be a nurse. After all, working in health care runs in her family.
In addition to both of Smyser’s grandmothers having been nurses, so are two cousins (and one of those is a nurse practitioner). Her grandfather was a pharmacist; her aunt is a physical therapist, and her uncle is a durable medical equipment sales representative.
But more influenced her decision.
Two weeks before her tenth birthday, Smyser was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus. While the entire hospital staff were wonderful to her, as she says, “It was the nurses who I remember taking care of me and my family the most. So ever since that young age, I was not only surrounded by health care workers, but I also had a life-changing experience in the hospital.”
Part of Smyser’s dream of becoming a nurse has come true, as she earned her BSN when she graduated recently from the Widener University School of Nursing.
Like many nursing school students nationwide, Smyser spent part of her time learning during COVID-19. After being sent home from school in March 2020 during the height of the pandemic, Smyser took the opportunity to work in the COVID unit at Cooper University Hospital. “I had the chance to firsthand see all the unfortunate circumstances that patients and families were facing due to the horrifying effects of the virus,” Smyser recalls.
So when an opportunity presented itself for helping to give vaccines, she jumped at the chance. “I wanted to be able to do anything I could to help try and bring some sort of normalcy back to our lives, and these vaccine clinics were just the right way to be able to do that,” she says.
Smyser administered vaccines with classmates as volunteers with the Citizen Corps of Delaware County. This was part of her clinical experience through her Population Health course that senior nursing students take. “We were assigned locations from our clinical instructors and course coordinator based on a need for volunteers and how many vaccines they were scheduled to administer that day at each location,” Smyser explains. She worked three days, typically 8-10 hours each day, and estimates that she vaccinated about 150-200 people each day.
“I met a lot of wonderful people who were very kind to me and wished me luck as I completed my nursing school journey,” says Smyser. “They found comfort in my calm manner during their vaccine experience. As each person or family left, I would congratulate and thank them for doing their part in putting a stop to the COVID-19 virus.”
Smyser also felt like she was really making a difference. “It was definitely an experience that not many people before or after my graduating year will probably experience. I felt like I had gone full circle from working on a COVID unit to then helping administer the vaccine,” she says. “It was like a big weight being lifted off my shoulders, and I could finally take a sigh of relief knowing that there was a light at the end of this long tunnel.”