On a medical-surgical rotation during his clinical work at the UVM Medical Center, nursing student George MacDonald had an experience that solidified his career choice.
Responding to a call from a patient who had severe injuries from a car accident and was in terrible pain, MacDonald developed a plan to rotate the patient. With help from three other nursing students, he changed the patient’s sheets and pillows and moved him into a comfortable position.
Days later, the hospital’s clinical instructor relayed a message from that patient to MacDonald: the aspiring nurse’s care was the best he’d ever received.
“That was huge for me,” MacDonald remembers. “The smallest thing changed a person’s life.”
Always a science kid at heart who was fascinated by biology and the human body and had a strong desire to help people, MacDonald was a nursing major at the University of Vermont. He graduated in May and was a four-year recipient of a Marblehead Dollars for Scholars scholarship.
MacDonald’s course load was demanding, with classes in pharmacology, physiology, gerontology and his favorite, microbiology. Clinical rotations in pediatrics, on the psychiatric unit and the cardiology floor were challenging and rewarding.
In addition to providing patient care, he was able to watch surgeries and once witnessed a procedure where the patient’s heart rate was so low, his heart stopped twice, while the patient was awake.
“That was an awesome experience,” states MacDonald.
He was surprised at how much he loved his gerontology rotation. During the height of COVID, MacDonald participated in a weekly Zoom call with elderly volunteers who provided insight about their care needs.
Balancing classes with his clinical work proved challenging, and it was impossible for MacDonald to pursue extracurricular activities at UVM, other than going to the gym, rock climbing and playing guitar and song writing, which he did for his own pleasure.
During the final year of studies, nursing students do a senior practicu, and MacDonald chose a pediatric setting, working three to four days each week as a middle school nurse in the Burlington area, while also taking classes.
“I love working with kids,” said MacDonald. “They are so fun.”
An eye-opening experience for the outgoing MacDonald was a public health rotation at an assisted living facility in Shelburne, Vermont, where he did a community health assessment, collected data and learned about diet and nutrition for the elderly.
“It’s so much work to be a public health nurse, and it takes years to see results,” he comments, noting that the experience gave him a greater understanding of how nurses care for and contribute to their communities.
MacDonald is spending the summer working at a rock-climbing gym in the Burlington area and studying for his nursing board exams, which he’ll take soon.
He’s already secured a job as a nurse on the orthopedic floor at the UVM Medical Center but hopes one day to move his career to the West Coast to explore a different part of the country where he can continue skiing, rock climbing and his new hobby of surfing (he’s in the process of building a surfboard).
In the future, he is considering graduate education to become a nurse practitioner or possibly a physical therapist.
For four years MacDonald received the permanently endowed Helaine Hazlett Scholarship, and he appreciates the assistance from the hometown organization that helped him achieve his goal of earning a nursing degree.
“Mrs. Hazlett was super supportive of me going into nursing, and that just felt good,” said MacDonald.
For two years, his parents had two children in college at the same time, which was financially challenging. He received a good financial aid package from UVM and four years of scholarships from Marblehead Dollars for Scholars, and it made an important difference for him.
“People think Marblehead kids don’t need help paying for school, but we’re out here,” states MacDonald.
He said he hates to see students going to a college they don’t want to attend because they can’t afford their top choice.
MacDonald is grateful for the years of support he received from the local non-profit organization, and he concludes, “It was nice to know that people from back home were rooting for me and wanted me to get a good education and do the things I want to do. That was awesome.”
Nancy Marrs is a member of the Marblehead Dollars for Scholars Board of Directors.