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Excelling in Academics and Service

Excelling in Academics and Service

Erica Neary (seated), explains how to properly use a cheek swab to collect DNA for the bone marrow registry.

Erica Neary, a rising senior nursing student minoring in psychology, first developed an interest in nursing at a young age when an ill family member was being treated frequently at area hospitals. Neary felt powerless and desired to learn more about health care and science. This desire resurfaced when Neary was a senior at Lloyd C. Bird High School in Chesterfield County, Va., and she participated in an art therapy program for special education students. Neary said she enjoyed the therapy aspect of her interactions with the students, but once again felt a calling to know more about the science behind their needs in order to help. With her passions realized, she chose to attend the VCU School of Nursing as the perfect place to develop the skills she needed to pursue her medical interests.  

“I’m really enjoying the well-rounded education I receive through the School of Nursing,” Neary said. “I’m able to take what I learn in lecture and apply it directly to my clinicals.”

Neary, an Honors College student, was recently recognized for excelling in academics and service. She received the Donald Gregory Scholarship, a merit-based $6,000 award presented to 36 full-time undergraduate students nationwide who are members of the national honor society, Phi Eta Sigma. This award is given to a candidate who maintains at least a 3.5 cumulative GPA, participates in local chapter activities, and has demonstrated creative ability and the potential for success in their chosen field.

“If I had to pick three words to describe Erica, they would be: kind, gentle, and thoughtful,” said Daphne Terrell, M.S.N., RN, CNRN, clinical instructor in the Department of Adult Health and Nursing Systems. “In addition to these great attributes, she was always eager to learn in my clinical group and her patient care was excellent! I'm so proud of her and I know she will do well in the future.”

Outside of the classroom, Neary exudes a passion for service work. She has volunteered more than 150 hours towards fundraising and outreach programs through organizations such as the National Society of Collegiate Scholars, the Golden Key International Honour Society, and Phi Eta Sigma. Recently, Neary and other Phi Eta Sigma members planted 300 trees at Richmond's Wastewater Treatment Plant. She has also volunteered at fundraisers for the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Virginia Blood Services, the American Heart Association, and the Central Virginia Food Bank.

Neary is also actively involved with nursing organizations. She is the vice president of VCU’s chapter of Nursing Students Without Borders, where she works with members to bring awareness of medical conditions and healthy lifestyle changes to the community. She is currently planning the group’s annual service trip to Guatemala to improve the quality of life and health of villagers.

In addition, Neary combines her passion for science and service work as the community service/philanthropy chair of the Student Nurses' Association. She planned a bone marrow registry event in March through VCU’s Be the Match on Campus chapter, a division of the National Marrow Donor Program, to match patients in need of a bone marrow transplant with donors. Faculty, staff and students at the Jonah L. Larrick Student Center participated in a simple cheek swab to be potentially matched with local patients diagnosed with blood cancers like leukemia and other blood diseases such as sickle cell anemia.

“It’s amazing how a simple bone marrow donation can save another person’s life,” Neary said. “The more I read about this process, the more I was convinced that if even just one person was added to the registry and successfully donated, we would have made a difference.”

Neary is seeing the difference people make each day in her work as a care partner on the Cardiac Heart Center floor at the VCU Medical Center. In this role, Neary draws patients’ blood, prepares IVs, and regularly checks glucose levels.

“I would be lost without my clinicals,” Neary said. “I’m gaining invaluable experience while also using the knowledge I’m developing in class to understand and analyze the actions nurses take on the floor.”

After graduation, Neary says she would like to work on a cardiology floor for a few years before transferring to an intensive care unit or an emergency room. Eventually she plans to apply to the VCU School of Allied Health Professions’ Master of Science in Nurse Anesthesia program so she can one day work on a delivery floor and learn how to administer epidurals.

“The experiences I’ve had at the School of Nursing have already widened my perspectives to all the opportunities out there for me to use medicine and science to make a difference in this world,” Neary said. “I now have a more focused direction of where I want to go.” 

Creating collaboration. Advancing science. Impacting lives.