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Co-op students show care, compassion by working through the holidays

12/16/15 - BOSTON, MA. - Shauna Sullivan, BHS'16, poses for a portrait outside Behrakis Health Sciences Center at Northeastern University on Dec. 16, 2015. Sullivan is a co-op student working at MGH though winter break. Photo by: Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

The fall semester ends Saturday, signaling the official start of winter break.

Many Northeastern students will return home, opting to unwind with friends and family following the culmination of co-op and a grueling spate of classes, papers, and final exams. Others will take a well-deserved vacation, traveling for fun or for edification to far-flung countries like Spain and Japan.

But some will stay in Boston, working through the holidays as co-op employees at hospitals, newspapers, and nonprofit organizations.

Three such students are Elizabeth Howland, BHS’17, Shauna Sullivan, BHS’16, and Danielle Duke, SSH’18.

24/7, 365

Howland, a third-year nursing major, will be working Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day, tending to sick patients as a critical care technician at Tufts Medical Center.

“Nurses have a special job,” she said. “It’s 24/7 and we don’t stop.”

Many of her patients are homeless or working to overcome substance abuse. Some have been kicked out of their homes by their parents, she said, and others have no family at all. As such, they’re in particular need of companions, caregivers.

“I’m one of the people who gives patients a little extra TLC,” Howland explained. “The hospital setting is a very unfamiliar environment, and it’s nice to be there for them in a non-judging capacity.”

Her manager praised her work, calling her a skilled patient care provider with positive energy. “If I were a patient here on Christmas Day and she walked into my room,”  said clinical instructor Linda Hames, “I would feel less disappointed about not being home.”

12/17/15 - BOSTON - Elizabeth Howland, BHS '18 poses for a portrait  on Dec. 17, 2015. Photo by: Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

Elizabeth Howland will be tending to sick patients at Tufts Medical Center on Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day.

Sullivan, a fourth-year nursing major, will be working Christmas Eve as a critical care technician at Massachusetts General Hospital. As part of the cardiac surgery unit, she will be feeding and bathing patients on the night before Christmas.

“Sometimes you’re working on little sleep and have to choose work over other things,” she explained, noting the unique characteristics of the nursing profession. “It’s a demanding job that takes a certain type of person.”

Her compassion for patients makes her the ideal fit to care for them, no matter the time nor the day: “I don’t mind working holidays,” said Sullivan, who also worked Thanksgiving. “You see what you do for people and how thankful they are and it makes it all worth it.”

Duke, a third-year human services major, will be spending the holidays at Transition House, a nonprofit domestic violence agency based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. As the organization’s shelter relief co-op, she will be working Christmas Eve and Christmas Day as well as New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.

Duke and one of the case managers will be leading a New Year’s Eve discussion with survivors of domestic violence, listening to their stories and offering tips for moving forward with their lives.

“I’m really looking forward to it,” she said. “I want to pursue social work and I know that I need to be prepared to work whenever my clients need me.”

A second family

Although Sullivan won’t be spending Christmas Eve with her family, she will be celebrating on Dec. 24. That’s because she and her colleagues will be sharing a homemade holiday dinner complete with all the fixings, including some tasty treats.

“We’ll bring in food and have our own celebration,” Sullivan said. “We’ll make the unit our family.”

Howland, for her part, noted that Tufts Medical Center would be organizing a Christmas dinner for staff and patients alike. “Its nice because we get to share the experience with them,” she said, referring to the patients.

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