By Laine Zizka
It’s not often a student can say they have a post-graduation job lined up before their senior year, much less one at Mayo Clinic. In this case, after completing a summer externship with the clinic, graduating senior nursing student Laura Sassos can say both.
Sassos, not one to shy away from a new experience, applied in 2016 to be a Summer III extern at the prestigious Mayo Clinic and got the position, along with a job after graduation. As a part of the Mayo Clinic Rochester Department of Nursing for more than 50 years, the Summer III program offers nursing students out of their junior year an extensive experience.
“The program is designed to allow nursing students the opportunity to immerse themselves into the patient care setting alongside some of the best registered nurses in the nation,” said Stephanie Sveen, one of Mayo Clinic’s nursing placement coordinators, all of whom hold master’s degrees and are veterans of the Mayo Clinic nursing staff.
Though Sassos had a few doubts about her own abilities, this opportunity was no mistake. Rather, her path towards this profession started from a very young age when her mother taught her and her twin sister what it meant to be kind.
“I remember first entering high school, she was always saying to be kind to other people and be nice,” Sassos recalls. “I feel like it’s part of me now.”
That attitude bled into her Mayo Clinic application as she recalled a Mr. Rogers quote reminding people in crises to always look for the helpers. Sassos’ desire to be a helper was evident in her time at TCU.
“I was so impressed with her communication abilities,” said Marie Stark, an associate professor of professional practice in Harris College’s nursing department. “It’s going to benefit her patients and the teams she works with her whole career. She’s really good at evaluating problems and recognizing what plan of care would be helpful intervening.”
Sassos went to Kathryn Bishop, Harris College’s career consultant, to help her with everything from resume review to interview preparation, to internship application guidance. Though Sassos is the first student from TCU to go to Mayo Clinic, Bishop hopes it will open the door for more Harris College nursing majors to get the same opportunity.
“[Laura is] one of those students who is fearless,” said Bishop. “If there’s a really great opportunity out there, she’s going to apply for it and just see what happens and she’s going to be really open to the experience, which I think is one of the greatest things about her.”
Not only did Sassos’ professors and mentors feel she excelled in her coursework, they noted her enthusiasm and interest in the subject matter, so it came as no surprise when she received the Mayo Clinic externship. For Sassos, she admitted it felt a bit surreal, at first, until her mentors at the clinic assured her and her peers that their presence was no mistake, but a reflection of their abilities.
In fact, the Mayo Clinic Professional Practice Model is focused on relationships, looking for students who exude a caring spirit, leadership, and integrity, but who also have strong communication skills and a desire to learn. Though Sassos’ acceptance into the program was a reflection of her abilities, the program itself was designed to sharpen them. She was assigned to the Trauma ICU, an experience she described as both intense and amazing.
“I was there with a lot of families who were experiencing a lot of hardships and it totally changed who I am as a person, especially going into this year and even just into the real world,” Sassos said.
At its heart, the Summer III program strives to enhance the transition from nursing student to graduate, providing an exceptional learning experience at one of the most prestigious healthcare organizations in the country. It’s truly not just about making great nurses, but well-rounded people.
“Summer III externs develop greater self-confidence, time management, communication and critical thinking skills,” Sveen said. “Having earned the Magnet certification, the Mayo Clinic Rochester Department of Nursing [has] the most prestigious credential a healthcare organization can achieve for nursing excellence and quality health care.”
Beyond the rush of the Trauma ICU, Sassos found that Mayo Clinic felt like a completely different world. Though it has been recognized repeatedly as a number one hospital in the nation, it was the patient care that truly stood out to her.
“I’ve never seen a nurse or anybody be rude to a patient or the family,” said Sassos. “The patient really does come first, and I love that.”
More than teaching her about the ins-and-outs of nursing, Sassos noted that Mayo taught her a lot about life.
“I feel like sometimes in nursing school you get very anxious and hard-headed because you’re trying to compete against your friends,” Sassos admits. “It’s hard, it’s tough. This summer helped me find that peace and kindness that my mom always said.”
Peace and kindness even exuded from the people, recalled Sassos, affirming the notion of “Minnesota nice.” She retells a story of a particular encounter that stood out to her, of leaving a store after spending a while in conversation with the store owner. As she and her dad were leaving, thanking the owner, he replied “you’re worth it.”
“Ever since then, if any patient tells me thank you or the family tells me thank you, I always say ‘You’re worth it,’ because they are,” said Sassos. “You can totally see people’s facial expressions change whenever you say, ‘you’re worth it’ instead of just saying ‘you’re welcome’ or ‘my pleasure.’ It’s the sweetest thing.”
It’s no surprise, then, that Mayo Clinic’s primary value is ‘The Needs of the Patient Come First.’ It shows in every employee, every action they take, and even in their attitude toward others. The ‘culture of kindness’ is very real and intentional, emphasizing respect, compassion, and stewardship, making their exceptional care possible.
“Kindness is definitely part of the equation and almost goes without saying,” said Sveen. “Mayo Clinic Rochester is a big place, but it shouldn’t ever feel big. Mayo makes it easy to love what you do, because when you do the right thing, it just feels good. When you feel good, you do good; it’s a pretty amazing thing to be part of.”
As rigorous as Mayo Clinic is, Sassos credits TCU with pushing her toward and preparing her for the experience from the simulation labs to dedicated mentors to opportunities they provide for their students and everything in between. Harris College, she said, places an emphasis on encouraging its students not to just do nursing school, but to find jobs, internships, and outside experiences.
“I’ve taught at quite a few universities and I think [TCU] provides just about the best that you can provide for the students,” said Stark on TCU’s high standards and accountability. “Really, you want patients first and you want the patient to be cared for correctly and safely, and I think that there is such a great emphasis on the background knowledge they need to do that.”
As for Sassos, she continues to look toward the future and using the skills she developed over the summer.
“When I go back to work for them, I am going to be so much more relaxed,” said Sassos. “I’m not going to be [thinking] this is brand new, it’s going to be an awesome experience.”
For students looking to apply for the Mayo Clinic Summer III program, please make an appointment with Kathryn Bishop in the TCU Career Center. The application is open now and closes on January 15th, 2018.