Exchange at Penn, Alumni Hands-On Training
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January 6, 2021
Josh Pontrelli, Penn Abroad Global Programs Manager
Nursing is an ever-evolving field, and Exchange at Penn past participant Greg Hext knows this first-hand. He is used to major shifts, though. Not only did he change careers from sales to nursing in his mid-20s, but he also has seen major changes in how nurses in the United Kingdom are trained and perform their jobs. The changes haven’t been too foreign to Greg. Because of his exchange experience at Penn Nursing during the Fall 2008 semester in which he participated in clinical rotations in Philadelphia hospitals, he was able to get a preview of what was to come in the UK.
“In the United States, we had hugely different clinicals that were much more hands-on with patients compared to the UK,” Greg said, adding that student nurses at Penn participated in a lot of advanced assessment, technical issues, and daily reports. Despite participating in clinical rotations as a nursing student at King’s College, London, Greg suggested his experience with registered nurses at Penn was a true exchange, adding, “we had a lot to learn from each other."
"At Penn, you hit the floor and worked with patients. At first, this was a bit of a shock, and a lot more autonomy was given to students in the States. Nurses expected you to know what you’re doing,” he said. “It helped you learn. You either sink or swim.”
Now serving as head of critical care and acute services at a private hospital in central London, Greg sees the UK adopting similar shadowing experiences among nursing students. “The whole experience was memorable. It gave me a lot of confidence and direction. I’m now in the position to use the things I learned at Penn, direct where things are going in this organization, advocate for advanced skills, and look at alternative methods,” he said. “All the experiences I had years ago come into play.”
Greg came to Penn as a non-traditional exchange student in his late 20s, though most other exchange program participants are within a younger age range. He looks back on his time in Philadelphia with fond memories. “People were so friendly, and I participated in Thanksgiving, was invited to football games, and much more,” he recalled. “I made the most of the city, and with the Bolt Bus, frequently visited New York City and Washington, D.C.”
In addition to enjoying the social atmosphere and improving his knowledge, Greg said he grew as a person. “The exchange helped me recognize that I should not limit my aspirations. It enabled me to grow my career. I became more confident in networking when I got back, in speaking to the right people, getting into the right places, and identifying the best mentors,” he said. “It accelerated my career and life. It was truly a brilliant opportunity.”