June 13, 2024
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Binghamton student swaps chemical engineering for nursing

Kevin O’Donnell graduated in May with a degree in nursing, which he plans to combine with a career in firefighting

Kevin O'Donnell will graduate from Decker College's Baccalaureate Accelerated Track (BAT) program in May with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree. Kevin O'Donnell will graduate from Decker College's Baccalaureate Accelerated Track (BAT) program in May with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree.
Kevin O'Donnell will graduate from Decker College's Baccalaureate Accelerated Track (BAT) program in May with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree. Image Credit: Jonathan Cohen.

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., into a family with a history of serving others, Kevin O’Donnell had a childhood filled with stories about resilience, hard work and the spirit of service.

Although he initially had an interest in healthcare or firefighting — his father was a firefighter for almost four decades — O’Donnell’s strong interest in math and science, coupled with his father’s advice not to follow in his footsteps and instead choose a high-paying career, led him to pursue a degree in chemical engineering.

In 2021, O’Donnell graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Notre Dame and started working for Armstrong Flooring in Lancaster, Pa. After spending the next 14 months working in areas such as supply chain distribution and quality engineering, O’Donnell knew chemical engineering wasn’t his passion.

“I realized that job wasn’t what I wanted; I couldn’t see myself doing it for the next 30-plus years,” he said. “I wanted to have a more people-focused career where I could have a more powerful and positive impact on the lives of others.”

However, before O’Donnell could make a change, the company declared bankruptcy, and he was laid off.

Back in Brooklyn, confronted with the need to figure out his future, O’Donnell recalled attending his father’s retirement party from the New York City Fire Department (FDNY). At that event, it was clear to O’Donnell that his father loved his job and was proud to spend his career dedicated to the welfare of others.

Around the same time, O’Donnell saw a television program about Welles Crowther. Known as ‘the man in the red bandana,” Crowther was an equities trader who worked on the 104th floor of the World Trade Center’s south tower and led more than a dozen people to safety on 9/11. O’Donnell felt connected with the fallen hero: Both had connections to firefighting (Crowther and his father were volunteer firefighters) and had played college lacrosse.

But, it was a line from the show that resonated most with O’Donnell: “If I sit in front of this computer for the rest of my life, I’m going to go crazy,” Crowther had told his father about a month before the terrorist attacks. That epitomized how O’Donnell felt; he knew he couldn’t return to engineering.

Like Crowther, O’Donnell decided he wanted to become a firefighter.

Finding the next steps

With almost three years before the next test to qualify for the FDNY would be given (the previous test was in 2017; the next will be in fall 2024), O’Donnell began searching for a career he could combine with firefighting.

A healthcare-related career was a natural choice, given his interest in the field. O’Donnell considered becoming a physical therapist or physician assistant until his father suggested nursing. O’Donnell spoke with nurses in his family to learn more about the profession and discovered that nursing is a common joint career for many firefighters.

“The more I talked to people, the more I realized nursing fit in with what I wanted to do,” O’Donnell said.

He began exploring accelerated nursing programs, and it wasn’t long before he chose the Baccalaureate Accelerated Track (BAT) program at Decker College of Nursing and Health Sciences. It was an easy choice since O’Donnell was familiar with Binghamton. His sister, Katherine, graduated from Harpur College of Arts and Sciences in 2019.

After completing prerequisite classes at Utica University, O’Donnell applied to the BAT program and was accepted. When he attended the program’s Admitted Students Day a couple of months later, he knew he made the right decision.

“The program seemed like a really good fit for me, especially the strong clinical preparation and simulation experiences because I didn’t have any previous healthcare experience,” he said.

Blending new nursing skills

O’Donnell entered Decker’s one-year BAT program in May 2023 — he will graduate this May with a bachelor’s degree in nursing. He felt overwhelmed initially but gained confidence and skills through coursework, clinical experiences, and labs in Decker’s Innovative Simulation and Practice Center.

“It was a lot to take in at first, but I’ve built a solid foundation over the past few semesters,” he said. “The clinical instructors and the time spent in the ISPC lab helped us build our skills.”

Clinical Assistant Professor Alma Rood, Clinical Assistant Professor Allie Stabler, and Assistant Director of Undergraduate Programs and Clinical Lecturer Alison Dura are among the faculty who strongly impacted O’Donnell.

“Alma had a special way of connecting with the residents at the nursing homes, which is her specialty, and her passion for caring for people is truly inspiring. Allie always shared her knowledge and stories about working in the ER with us. She is relatable and easy to talk to, which made the learning experience even more enjoyable,” O’Donnell said.

Speaking of Dura, he said: “She is exceptional. She excels in her teaching methods and has a wealth of fascinating stories and real-life experiences from her time working in the hospital, which adds a unique perspective to her lessons.”

“Kevin is that rare student who shows full commitment to every aspect of learning — whether in class, clinical or simulation. He is always an engaged and active learner — one who consistently looks beyond the material to see how it will apply to the care of others,” noted Dura, adding she will miss having O’Donnell in class.

In addition to the rigorous accelerated nursing program and working as a snowmaker at nearby Greek Peak Mountain Resort, O’Donnell found time to serve as a student ambassador in Decker College’s Division of Advising and Academic Excellence. He conducted Health Sciences Building tours, answered questions about the nursing program and attended special events, including BAT Admitted Students Day and Decker’s Homecoming Brunch.

“I enjoy sharing stories about our campus and the nursing program,” he said. “While other excellent nursing programs are available, I am passionate about promoting Decker’s BAT program and encouraging others to consider it as well.”

After graduating, O’Donnell, along with the rest of his peers, will spend the next few weeks preparing for the NCLEX-RN exam, which is necessary to become a registered nurse in New York. In addition, he plans to take the FDNY exam. However, he is excited to see where his nursing journey takes him and is applying to hospitals. He hopes to work in the emergency department in either Brooklyn or Manhattan.

“I’m sure I’ll encounter unfamiliar situations at my new job, and I know I have a lot to learn, but I feel about as prepared as I can be,” O’Donnell said. “I know I’ll be able to build on the nursing skills I’ve developed, and while it’ll be nerve-wracking being new, I’m looking forward to this next step and growing as a nurse.”

Posted in: Campus News, Decker