COVID-19 Didn’t Stop These Nursing Students from Getting a Peek at a Career at MSK

Advanced Practice Provider (APP) nurse practitioner Jennifer Cagney

A unique partnership between Hunter College School of Nursing and Memorial Sloan Kettering gives pre-health students the opportunity to shadow an MSK advanced practice provider (APP). More than 300 students have taken part since the program went virtual because of COVID-19. Pictured: APP Jennifer Cagney

Asha Ewrse thought she wanted to be an English major. But as she explored future career options, she realized something. “Over time, my focus became less about books themselves and more about the people — the minds and souls that serve as the foundation of any art form,” says Ms. Ewrse, who is now a clinical nurse in Memorial Sloan Kettering’s inpatient unit.

She connected that passion with her lifelong desire to help others. A career in nursing called out to her.

Opportunity Knocks

In 2019, while a student at Hunter College School of Nursing, Ms. Ewrse learned of a unique partnership between Hunter and MSK. Each year, Hunter pre-health students can apply for an opportunity to shadow an MSK advanced practice provider (APP) for one week. APPs can include nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and certified registered nurse anesthetists.

Nurse practitioners and physician assistants are licensed differently by state, but otherwise perform many of the same tasks. They can both evaluate symptoms, order tests, and make diagnoses. A certified registered nurse anesthetist administers anesthesia during surgery. All three roles require additional education and certifications after a bachelor’s degree. 

Ms. Ewrse leapt at the opportunity to join the coveted extracurricular known as the Advanced Practice Provider Program (AP3).

“It felt like exactly what I needed to project myself into the future,” she says.

Ms. Ewrse was accepted into the AP3 and spent time learning from providers at MSK’s Josie Robertson Surgery Center in 2019. Once she graduated from Hunter in May 2020 — during the height of the pandemic — she knew she wanted to come back to MSK. She has been a nurse here since January 2021 and has plans to pursue the nurse practitioner path.

Ms. Ewrse credits her success at MSK to her AP3 experience. And even though the program had to pivot during the COVID-19 pandemic, it didn’t deter MSK from educating the next generation of healthcare heroes.

Paying It Forward

The AP3 went virtual in 2020 due to the pandemic. That wasn’t the only change. Instead of hosting three students in person, MSK turned the AP3 into a five-day virtual symposium open to all Hunter pre-health students. Nearly 300 students have taken part in the program since it moved online.

“The virtual platform allowed us to reach so many more students,” says nurse practitioner Marie Marte, an APP manager involved in the foundation of the AP3. Nurse practitioner Kenny Lin, who helps orchestrate the program each year, added that it was an opportunity to connect with students “who very well could be our future colleagues.”

Ms. Ewrse was one of 20 MSK providers who spoke about their careers and fielded questions at the June 2021 AP3 symposium. She says it was important to her to give back to the institutions that have helped her along her path.

“If there’s anything I can say or do to mirror and pass on what has been done for me, what has allowed me to show up for my patients and my coworkers physically, mentally, and emotionally, I will always deliver,” she says.

If there's anything I can say or do to mirror and pass on what has been done for me, what has allowed me to show up for my patients and my coworkers physically, mentally, and emotionally, I will always deliver.
Asha Ewrse clinical nurse

‘We Must Do Everything We Can’

Like many Hunter students, the AP3 cohorts come from diverse backgrounds. Mr. Lin says that is crucial to building a top-tier team at MSK.

“Diversifying our talented workforce will only strengthen MSK,” he says. “A tumultuous year of bigotry, racism, and intolerance made it crystal clear that we must do everything we can to create opportunities and elevate the people of our community. And one way we know how to do that is by sharing our stories.”

In the works is a mentorship program linking Hunter students and MSK APPs. Based on her AP3 experience, Ms. Ewrse hopes it takes off. As she looks ahead in her career, she’s grateful for the network of support she’s been given thus far.

“What keeps me going is knowing that those senior to me are rooting for those just like me,” she says. “And that they’re in the positions they are in because they started in similar places as me.”