I not only enjoyed the medical side, but I also admired what nurses did—not only for patients, but their families too.”
“Growing up, traveling was always something I found joy in,” explains Gabrielle Mongeluzi ’20. Determined to combine this love with the passion of her career choice, Mongeluzi spent hours researching programs that would allow her to study abroad within the bounds of her already demanding schedule as a senior nursing student.
Mongeluzi discovered Work the World, an organization that provides clinical health care internship opportunities across the globe. “They offered a wider variety of locations and specialties than most other options,” she recalls of her choice. “I picked Vietnam because I wanted to travel somewhere that needed my help and a location I would probably never experience otherwise.” During Immaculata’s winter break, she headed to Hue, the capital of Thua Thien Hue province in Central Vietnam.
Although she expected her experience would be similar to her role as a nursing student in the U.S., Mongeluzi quickly realized the nurses there counted on the visiting interns to provide critical hands-on support. She spent her first week of service in pediatric oncology and transplant and the second week in adult oncology.
“While in pediatric oncology and transplant, I assisted the nurse with medication administration,” she says. Each nurse was responsible for caring for about 40 patients daily. “During my time helping the adult patients, I spent my mornings working alongside nurses distributing medications or in the clinic with the doctors informing family members about their cancers.” In the afternoons, she assisted with surgeries to remove tumors. “My experience exceeded all expectations of having ‘real’ opportunities,” Mongeluzi proudly declares.
From the time she was young, Mongeluzi enjoyed learning about medicine and science, and in her words, the excitement of the unknown. As a junior in high school, she thought about pursuing physical therapy. During her senior year, Mongeluzi participated in a career exploration program, which guided her towards nursing. “I remember the feeling I got the first day I spent with a nurse,” she fondly recalls. “I not only enjoyed the medical side, but I also admired what nurses did—not only for patients, but their families too.”
The primary reason Mongeluzi decided to study abroad was so she could learn about how different cultures varied in the practice of medicine––and the vast difference between her own experience at home and what she saw in Vietnam was abundantly clear. “Patients were grateful for the care they received regardless of sharing beds and rooms,” a contrast she notes that is an unacceptable practice in the United States. “Many patients didn’t have what we would consider proper medical devices. All of their chartings were handwritten paper notes. Sanitation concerns were non-existent. The nurse handled medications that pharmacies must dispense in the U.S.” In addition to the lack of comparable medical practices, Mongeluzi points out that there were no dietitians, mental health professionals or social workers to assist in the holistic care of patients.
“With the help of so many of my amazing teachers, I can say I have grown into the nurse I had always dreamed of being, because of their support and guidance.”
Aside from the issues that caused her concern for the people of Vietnam, Mongeluzi simultaneously experienced respect and awe for other differences. In the hospital setting, she highlighted her observation of the importance of family in their culture. Family typically surrounded patients, and many times families would adopt another patient in need of support. A common practice she observed was for families to carry the burden of the full diagnosis while sparing the patient from the details in order to focus on healing or to avoid worrying about death.
Mongeluzi also embraced joy in her daily interactions with the patients and families. “I loved the look on the patients’ faces when they saw an American girl walk into their room and try her very best to speak their language,” she reflects. “I ended up making a lot of patients laugh because I wasn’t very good.” Similarly, she enjoyed the returned effort when people attempted her language. “The pride an older gentleman would have when he was able to answer my question in English, or the smile a mother gave when her son translated for me, just made me smile and made me so grateful.”
Immersing herself in the opportunity to learn the Vietnamese culture, Mongeluzi spent every free minute learning. Language and cooking lessons, enjoying local cuisine like traditional barbecue, exploring the city and neighboring town all inspired her to one day return. “It’s funny, because I said the one reason I picked Vietnam was to go somewhere I would never have the chance to go. However, after experiencing all of Vietnam and its beauty, I will be going back,” she asserts. “Recently with all that is going on in the world with COVID-19, I do think about traveling abroad to offer my services elsewhere.”
Now, Mongeluzi is working as a first-year, new graduate nurse with the transplant unit at Medstar Georgetown University Hospital (MGUH) in Washington, D.C. As she contemplates all of the opportunities a nursing career provides, she has aspirations of branching out as much as she can. “Since I started at MGUH, I work side by side with nurse practitioners (NP) and physician assistants, so I have thought about maybe going back to school to become an NP. However, it has always been a dream of mine to become a certified registered nurse anesthetist,” Mongeluzi assesses. “I have always been mesmerized by surgery and would like to explore an operating room career.” The next probable step for her is to transfer to the pediatric wing of the hospital’s transplant unit, to fulfill her original goal of working with pediatric patients.
Mongeluzi clearly has discovered her calling and as a fresh graduate from Immaculata, she encourages other nursing students to pursue studying abroad. “It will give you extra professional nursing experience to reflect upon. Additionally, it looks great on a resume when applying to jobs,” she asserts. Choosing to travel as a senior, Mongeluzi credits the nursing faculty at Immaculata for her educational attainment that prepared her to understand medical care in Vietnam, even while navigating the language barrier.
“Make no mistake, the nursing program is not the easiest academic program to excel in,” she emphasizes. “With the help of so many of my amazing teachers, I can say I have grown into the nurse I had always dreamed of being, because of their support and guidance.”