Alumna nurses her dream into a reality
February 06, 2019
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February 06, 2019
Alexandra Gerity’s hands were small and delicate, the perfect size to glide crayons across the paper. At the same time, they were plenty big enough to draw a dream — a yellow nurse standing on green grass with two red flowers.
From the time Gerity was 5 years old, she dreamed of being a nurse. That was it. The decision was made. As she grew older, a kindergarten picture became a roadmap to Quinnipiac University — even if there were a few bumps along the way.
“Undergraduate nursing school wasn’t easy, especially the first year. I just wanted to come home,” said Gerity ’11, DNP ’15, who grew up in New Jersey. “My parents told me, ‘Without a car, it’ll be difficult to find a ride home. Nothing in life comes easy. You’ll thank us when you’re older.’ It was tough love. But I know if they came to get me, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
Gerity spent the next seven years learning, studying and pushing herself to become the first School of Nursing student to go straight from a bachelor’s degree in nursing to a doctor of nursing practice, the highest degree in the profession.
Gerity also became the first Quinnipiac nurse to earn a prestigious VA Center of Excellence Fellowship from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. After finishing her DNP work, Gerity spent a year in a robust primary care program where she worked with physicians, conducted research and was named an author on a published paper about chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Today, at 29 years old, Gerity practices as a clinician at Triangle Wellness in Charlotte, North Carolina, and teaches clinicals at nearby Chamberlain University. She is the youngest faculty member at the university with a DNP, a point not lost on her students.
“I see how nervous some of the students get, and I immediately remember how I felt during my first year,” Gerity said. “A lot of them ask me how I got to where I am at such a young age, and I tell them, ‘After my parents told me to hitch a ride home if I quit nursing school, I realized there was no other option but to keep going.’ I made a promise to myself not to let my 5-year-old self down and just go straight through.”
During her first year of nursing school, Alex Gerity was apprehensive about succeeding, but she persevered and found a home at Quinnipiac and a path to her dream of being a nurse.
After earning her BSN, Gerity began her DNP studies, all while working two jobs. She worked part time as a graduate assistant for Quinnipiac Athletics and full time covering 12-hour shifts as an oncology nurse at Smilow Cancer Hospital in New Haven, where she met her husband, Bryan.
Her commitment did not go unnoticed.
“I saw Alex grow as a person, as a student and as a clinician,” said Susan D’Agostino, clinical assistant professor of nursing at Quinnipiac and director of the nurse practitioner programs. “She embraced the DNP and all it encompasses — academia, leadership, research and clinical practice. I’m not surprised she’s been so successful.”
This fall, D’Agostino said, the structure of Quinnipiac’s DNP program will change from the one that Gerity studied. The university will offer a two-year master’s of science in nursing with a focus as a family nurse practitioner or an adult gerontology nurse practitioner. After completion of the MSN program, students will have two years to decide if they want to opt-in for a continuation to their DNP, a path that is unique to Quinnipiac’s School of Nursing.
Gerity's initial struggles early in her nursing program gave way to success as she gained hands on nursing experience through summer and externship positions.
After completing her first year at Quinnipiac, Gerity spent the next three summers as a nursing assistant in the operating room. By 21, she was one of two students accepted into an exclusive nurse externship that allowed her to scrub-in with surgeons at Morristown Medical Center in New Jersey.
Given her rigorous training at Quinnipiac and her hospital experience back home, Gerity felt confident about her next step. As she neared the completion of her BSN studies, her parents were in her ear once more, this time framing a DNP as the final step in career fulfillment.
“I felt like I needed to start my career as a nurse before doing another four years of school,” Gerity said. “Then I remembered the one thing no one could ever take away from me, my education. If I didn’t get in, I had my undergraduate nursing degree.”
So Gerity applied to Quinnipiac and some other DNP programs in Connecticut. In March of her senior year, Gerity heard the best possible news: She had been accepted into the DNP program at Quinnipiac.
These days, Gerity applies all of her life experience — the exams, the clinicals, the team-based care, the prophetic crayon art of a little girl’s dream.
After completing her DNP at Quinnipiac, Gerity is now living her childhood dream of being a nurse while also helping to train the next generation of nurses.
“I never wake up and say to myself — ‘What if I didn’t become a nurse’ — because it has never crossed my mind,” Gerity tells her students. “With the right education, it is possible to love what you do for a living and achieve your dreams. I’m living proof of that.”
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