The Catholic University of America

Nora Conley

Dedicating Her Life to Caring for Others


Recent Catholic University graduate Colleen O’Neill always knew she wanted to be a nurse. Her interest dates back to when she was a child and her cousin was very ill. After spending so much time in the hospital visiting him, O’Neill began to consider a career serving others who were sick.

“I realized I absolutely loved the atmosphere of the hospital,” she said. “I knew I wanted to be a nurse.”

When she was in high school, O’Neill spent time shadowing nurses, which allowed her to watch what they did, including surgical procedures.

“That really confirmed my passion,” she said.

By the time she was a senior in high school, O’Neill began working part time as a certified nursing assistant (CNA) at a nursing home in her hometown of North Attleboro, Mass. CNAs assist patients with the activities of daily living, like getting dressed, bathing, and eating. They take vital signs as needed and update nurses with any changes they observe.

O’Neill kept working as a CNA even after she started nursing school at Catholic University. She also gained experience through clinical rotations, in which student nurses travel to area hospitals to work with local patients. During her sophomore year, O’Neill spent five months studying in Melbourne, Australia through a nursing exchange program with Australian Catholic University. By taking part in clinical rotations there, she was able to learn about hospital procedures in a different part of the world — “a totally different experience,” she said.

The summer after her junior year, O’Neill took an internship as a clinical nurse technician in the labor and delivery unit at Georgetown University Hospital. As part of her job, she helped open and close the operating room for Caesarean sections and she assisted with surgeries. She also set up inpatient rooms for childbirth and helped new mothers with their needs before and after birth.

“I absolutely loved talking to the patients after surgery and hearing every patient’s story about their childbirth journey,” O’Neill said. “I also loved scrubbing into the c-sections and being exposed to high risk childbirths. Each case was fascinating and it was amazing to work so closely with the nurses and surgeons.”

O’Neill continued to work as a nurse tech one day a week throughout her senior year. In February, she was hired for her first full-time nursing job on Georgetown’s orthopedic floor. After a few months of training and orientation, she started the position in July.

Though she loved working in labor and delivery, O’Neill said she enjoys the wide range of patients she encounters in orthopedics.

“I love my patients,” she said. “They’re super nice and some of them are very appreciative and they all have unique stories. I love hearing where they came from and what brought them to the hospital.”

O’Neill also enjoys working at a teaching hospital. Through a two-year program for recent graduates, she continues to take classes.

“It’s a really good transition,” she said. “There are maybe 80 people in the program so it’s really helpful to meet these other nurses. The people I work with make the experience better because they are so supportive.”

Though she is still new to the field, O’Neill said she is already starting to feel confident as a nurse.

“Your first year of nursing is very hard,” O’Neill said. “I was very overwhelmed when I first started in July. Now I’m settling down and it’s getting a lot better.”

In the future, O’Neill hopes to work as a travel nurse and eventually go back to school to become a nurse practitioner. She said she would like to specialize in either pediatrics or labor and delivery.

Looking back on her time at CUA, she said she is grateful for the experience she gained through clinicals and as a CNA.

“The nursing school at CUA greatly prepared me for this position because of all of the clinical rotations I have had,” she said. “I learned to work very hard, multi-task, and ask a lot of questions as a nursing student. CUA has also taught me to assess each patient’s needs holistically, including the emotional, spiritual, and physical needs of each patient.”


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Colleen O'Neill

Degree: B.S. in Nursing, 2014

Favorite class at CUA: Human Anatomy and Physiology

Best memory from CUA: Studying abroad in Australia and traveling to Thailand and New Zealand

Favorite thing to do in D.C.: Kayaking around the Georgetown Waterfront