The next generation of nurses learns from experience — their own and that of Theresa Tulaney, Ph.D.
As director of nursing and associate professor of practice at Marywood University, Tulaney draws on years of working as a nurse, a job she continues to do on a per-diem basis at Scranton’s Moses Taylor Hospital.
The Moscow resident almost ended up in a different part of the medical field, though. Growing up on a dairy farm in the Lake Winola area, Tulaney didn’t really know what she wanted to do after graduating from high school.
“I was always a good student, and I think I shocked everybody when I took a semester off,” she recalled.
Tulaney had always liked science and working with people, so she turned her eye toward medicine. Her background on the farm led her to consider becoming a veterinarian, but she realized she preferred working with people, who, unlike animals, could tell her their symptoms and concerns.
“So I said, ‘Well, let me try nursing,’ and thank goodness it ended up working out for me and I loved it,” Tulaney said.
Tulaney started her medical career as a nurse’s aide at Moses Taylor and then worked at a practical nursing program for a little while. While Tulaney had earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing from Penn State University, she didn’t plan to go back for further schooling. Then the opportunity to earn a master’s degree for very little arose at Penn State.
“I jumped on that opportunity because I liked being in school and I thought, ‘Why not?’” Tulaney said. “Even when I was working on my master’s, (though), I never planned to go into education.”
Tulaney began working with nursing students part-time, however, and found she really enjoyed it. When a full-time lab manager and clinical coordinator job opened at Marywood in fall 2011, Tulaney went for it. She later became assistant head of the nursing department and took it over in 2017. Figuring out how to teach came with a bit of a learning curve, though, Tulaney noted.
“It was a little bit difficult for me because I’m younger,” said Tulaney, who turns 36 this month and had to figure out how to “navigate” her relationships with students of different ages. “But also, you know how to do something. You know how to be a nurse. But teaching others how to be a nurse is a different ballgame.”
The pandemic made 2020 an interesting school year, as Tulaney and her fellow faculty had to shift to teaching virtually. By the end of the semester, students and faculty alike felt fried, she noted, but she saw a silver lining in the challenge it all presented. It gave her a chance to try new teaching techniques to help the students adjust to this different style of learning. That included games such as trivia and bingo. When students are excited and feeling competitive, Tulaney said, “they’re more likely to prepare and learn the material.”
“I’ve been trying to do some team-building with the students,” she said. “We do some nights where it’s not even nursing-related. … I found that when the students are working well together and when they have a good relationship with myself and the other faculty, they’re going to be more successful. And they need to learn to be team players because health care is a team sport.”
She knows that topic well not only from her own experience but also thanks to her doctorate. Once Tulaney started with her graduate studies, she just wanted to keep going, and she earned her doctorate from Marywood thanks to a dissertation that examined what she called a “dirty secret” in the nursing community — lateral violence, aka bullying among coworkers. While Tulaney has not experienced it, she said bullying “actually (is) a really prevalent thing, unfortunately.”
“I was just really interested in finding out why (bullying happens), because the people I know who are nurses are nurses who want to help people,” she said. “Why turn on your coworkers?”
Tulaney sets a positive example for future nurses in and out of the classroom. She has applied for grants to bring in more money for financially challenged students, and while the grants didn’t succeed, Tulaney hopes they can find other ways to help students.
“These kids struggle,” she said. “(Marywood) opened up a food bank on campus because we know food insecurity’s a rampant thing.”
Tulaney enjoys guiding students, particularly those in difficult positions.
“Sometimes they just have so many different life circumstances,” she said. “Some of the things that students are dealing with in their personal lives these days, you can’t just ignore that.”
When she sees those students succeed, though, “that’s the best thing ever.” And in some cases, she even gets to work alongside them in the field since she still does hands-on nursing at Moses Taylor.
“I love the people that I work with,” she said. “It’s a medical surgical unit, so you just get a different variety of patients. I love that I could have the same patient assignment for three days in a row but every day is different. I can’t do the same thing every day, so I love that. It keeps you on your toes.”
She also appreciates that Marywood grants its clinical faculty a day each week where they can continue to practice medicine.
“I really love that because I think they realize that it’s important for us to have that experience in the field,” she said. “I think it would be very difficult for me to be a good educator if I didn’t still work and know what it’s like.”
Outside nursing, Tulaney stays busy raising her 3.5-year-old daughter, Brooke, with her husband, Sarkis, and also continues to help her parents, Ben and Colleen Zdaniewicz, on the family farm. It seems their values rubbed off on Tulaney.
“Ever since I can remember, they’ve always worked so hard,” she said. “They never take a break. They never take a day off. And my mom, she’s been dealing with some chronic health issues. She’s a rock star.”
Being able to help not only patients but also students, meanwhile, keeps Tulaney going.
“I really like working with the students,” she said. “I don’t want to just make them nurses. I want to make (them) a great nurse I want to work next to.”
Caitlin Heaney West is the content editor for Access NEPA and oversees the Early Access blog in addition to working as a copy editor and staff writer for The Times-Tribune. An award-winning journalist, she is a summa cum laude graduate of Shippensburg University and also earned a master’s degree from Marywood University. Caitlin joined the Times-Shamrock family in 2009 and lives in Scranton. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; 570-348-9100 x5107; or @cheaneywest