When Ryan Santosuosso’s grandfather was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, she found herself drawn to him even more as the disease progressed.
While visiting him in a nursing home, she felt a strong connection with him and the other residents. It was then that she decided to change her career from teaching children to caring for the elderly.
“There are many people who go into teaching with a passion and the love for children, but there are not nearly as many who have the same type of passion for the elderly,” says Santosuosso. “I realized that the connection I have with older people is unique and if I didn't at least try to become a nurse, I would be wasting a valuable talent."
Santosuosso, a 34-year-old junior nursing student, always toyed with the idea of becoming a nurse, but thought the major would be too difficult.
It never occurred to her that one day she’d be back in school working toward her nursing degree.
She decided to apply to UMass Lowell because of the faculty and program strengths in geriatric nursing.
She says: “When I asked around about great nursing schools, UMass Lowell kept coming up in the conversation. I found that the School of NursingChair Karen Devereaux Melillo’s expertise and research interests included many of the geriatric issues I wanted to learn about.”
‘Life Changing’ Internship at D’Youville Senior Care
With the help of the Shalin Liu scholarship, Santosuosso was able to gain hands-on experience working with patients during her sophomore-year internship in the Alzheimer’s Unit at D’Youville Senior Care in Lowell.
It was an experience, she says, that changed her life: “I learned how to love, respect and communicate with the elderly more than I thought possible. Although I knew this opportunity would be wonderful, I had no idea how life changing the internship would become.”
She gained real-world experiences – she was able to talk to family members and caregivers about their concerns; she observed how the nurses and others cared for the residents and comforted them when they became agitated; she said goodbye for the first time to a resident during his last hours and learned ways to welcome new residents to the unit.
Sharing her Love of Music
Along with Santosuosso’s passion for nursing, she also loves music. As a writer and musician, she worried she would lose her artistic side due to the hard work and busy lifestyle of school. But then she discovered that D’Youville offers music therapy for residents.
She was delighted when the music therapist asked her to play the flute for the residents: “I won’t go to work to do my job, I will go to work to be who I am. I think that will make me a better nurse."