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Mercyhurst changed the career trajectory of a nurse teacher

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EDITOR’S NOTE: National Nurses Week runs from May 6-12.

For all the credentials after her name, it’s hard to imagine Carolyn Zaffino, MSN, MBA, RN, PCCN, was a slow starter. Disappointed with her first experience at university, she wasn’t sure that nursing training was for her. Everything changed when she enrolled at Mercyhurst University.

“Mercyhurst is a place that lives its mission; it’s not just words on her website,” she said of the college where she earned her ASN and BSN in 2015 and 2017, respectively. “The faculty really cares about the success of its students. It was a huge revelation for me.

The positive experience at Mercyhurst made Zaffino yearn for the opportunity to further his education and earn a master’s degree. Since Mercyhurst had yet to launch its own graduate program — now available as a Master of Science in Integrative Nursing Leadership — she looked elsewhere. The only requirement: it must be a Mercy college. Thus, she discovered Carlow University in Pittsburgh, where she earned her MSN and MBA in 2021.

“Even though it was online, you still had that welcoming feeling and faculty support that you get at Mercyhurst,” she said.
Today, Zaffino is back at Mercyhurst, teaching nursing at Mercy Motherhouse, where she is committed to maintaining that welcoming, student-centered environment that meant so much to her. She also continues a daily rotation at St. Vincent’s Hospital, where she was part of the first cohort of medical professionals facing the early onslaught of COVID-19.

“It was March 19, 2020. I had barely been trained in intensive care before I was called to the COVID floor,” Zaffino recalled. “The CDC didn’t even recommend what gear we should wear. Every shift there was a patient dying. And I was worried about what I might bring back to my parents.

In the end, neither Zaffino nor his parents got COVID but, admittedly, she said, it was a “scary” time. When the opportunity arose to teach at Mercyhurst, she took it. But she did not give up her clinical work.

“By maintaining the clinic, I think it makes me a better teacher,” she said.

With the nursing programs now under one roof at the Motherhouse, Zaffino said she looks forward to collaborating with her colleagues to provide more opportunities for students. Already they have established the American Holistic Nursing Club and hope to host speakers and a possible symposium soon.

PICTURED: Mercyhurst University Nursing Educator Carolyn Zaffino in her office at Mercy Motherhouse.