Now, let’s meet Erica who’s working on her nursing degree with an eye towards medical school She’s one of MANY Science Cheerleaders representing the New England Patriots!
Lauren: What turned you on to science?
Erica: Both my grandfather and my father are cardiologists, and my aunt was a nurse, so health sciences have been in my family for years. In high school I became a volunteer at Caritas Norwood Hospital to test out my own passion for medicine, and my experience there was so unforgettable that I knew this was the career that I wanted to pursue. My first day, I simply talked with a few of the patients. The patient’s appreciation of even the smallest task made me see the good that health care professionals can do. Therefore, I was confident when entering college that nursing would be my focus. Now, I’m pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Nursing at Boston College Connell School of Nursing. I am hoping to continue on either to graduate school to be a Nurse Practitioner or continue to medical school. Right now we are studying Adult Health (geriatrics) as a discipline, however the rotation next semester will be in Maternity/Neonatal health. I have been debating between this focus and a focus in pediatrics. My interest in pediatrics came from working at Boston Children’s Hospital. I worked in the Oncology unit, and was so touched by the positive attitudes and innocence of the children that I immediately could see myself working in this field.
Lauren: How do you balance the demands of pursuing a college degree/working full-time with the responsibilities of being a professional Cheerleader?
Erica: Time management is the most important way I keep on top of cheerleading and school. I have a planner that I absolutely rely on. I schedule everything from practice to study time to make sure I never fall behind.
Lauren: Best part of your day job or studies?
Erica: My clinical days are the best part. I love working with my patients at Mass General, especially when I get to interview patients. It is so interesting to hear the different stories behind each patient and to use that information to help diagnose and treat the patient.
Lauren: Please describe what you do as a nursing student.
Erica: There are many goals we (as nursing students) work to accomplish each time we go to work on the general medicine floor at Mass General. Usually, we are pre-assigned patients, so we begin by doing research. We look up the patient diagnosis and medical history and obtain information about labs and tests of the patients, current medications and procedures. A lot of prior research goes into working at a hospital. Even with medications, it is important to know the mechanisms of action (how the drug works), and the possible side effects. Pathophysiology and Pharmacology come into play often. Once we get there, we begin by interviewing and introducing ourselves to patients. We take a set of baseline vitals, which include blood pressure (using a sphygmomanometer) and heart rate (using a stethoscope). Most of our time is either spent bedside with the patients, or in the medication room preparing medicine for the patients. All of this is done with the overall goal of healing patients, in addition to making them as comfortable as possible.
Lauren: How do the qualities that make/made you a great cheerleader benefit you in your studies?
Erica: An important quality involved in being a great cheerleader is enthusiasm. We use enthusiasm every game to pump up the fans, and in the community to promote charities or other functions. Enthusiasm is a very important quality in medicine as well, because becoming a medical professional is a long and difficult process, and involves years of intensive training. The only way to successfully achieve this goal is if you have extreme enthusiasm in the field. A strong enthusiasm for medicine keeps me involved and doing my best, which is very important when working in this particular field.
Lauren: What team(s) have you cheer(ed) for, how long you’ve cheered for them, and why did you try out to be a professional cheerleader?
Erica: This is my rookie year as a New England Patriots Cheerleader. It has been a dream of mine to be a Patriots Cheerleader since I was about 5 years old when I was a cheerleader for Pop Warner! My mother was a Patriots Cheerleader back in the 70’s, so I grew up listening to her amazing stories and experiences. My Halloween costume three years in a row was a “Patriots Cheerleader.” I also coach all-star cheerleading for Ultimate Starz Athletics, a program for children with special needs.
Lauren: Devoting time to charities in the community is a large part of cheering for the New England Patriots. How have these experiences influenced you?
Erica: The charitable events that we are lucky enough to participate in have absolutely influenced me. We are able to help out these charities, even if just by boosting their morale. This is a very important and rewarding accomplishment, and it has come into play in my medical studies. An important part of delivering health care is speaking with the patients, and boosting their morale. The charitable events I have participated in have helped me to improve my people skills and have taught me to be positive in any situation and to keep hope (a concept that many of the charities have promoted.)
Lauren: Can you explain a little about the Patriots Junior Cheerleader program and the responsibility you have as a role model for young girls?
Erica: Every year, we participate in the Junior Patriot’s Cheerleader program. This program focuses on teaching girls (ages 7-17) a little about what it means to be a cheerleader. The girls have a series of clinics in which we go over tumbling, stunting, dancing and other aspects of cheerleading. They are then given the opportunity to perform during one of the Patriots pre-season games. In addition, they accompany us on various promotional appearances throughout the year. As much fun as this experience is for the girls, in many ways I think it is just as much fun for us. Many of these girls look to us as role models, which is a fantastic responsibility. Along with showing the girls the “ins and outs” of cheerleading, we also try to show them the other important aspects of being a cheerleader, such as teamwork and empathy.
Lauren: There are stereotypes about cheerleaders in our society that make it seem unlikely that a cheerleader could be a scientist. Obviously these stereotypes are untrue, and you are a great example of that. How do you feel about breaking down negative stereotypes about cheerleaders? Have you faced a situation where you had to challenge a stereotype about cheerleaders [or scientists]?
Erica: I am thrilled to help break this stereotype about cheerleaders. My freshman year, I cheered for Boston College. One of my friends was taking a physics class, and he was complaining to me about some trouble he was having. When I offered to help him with it, he laughed and said “you don’t look like you would be good at physics.” That was the first time I had faced this sort of stereotype.
Lauren: What advice would you give your 12-year-old self?
Erica: I am so happy with everything I have been doing with cheerleading and at Boston College, that I would simply tell myself to keep doing exactly what I am doing. I would also remind myself that everything happens for a reason, and no matter what challenges arise, everything is going to turn out just fine.
Lauren: What’s one thing people might find especially surprising about you?
Erica: I have been playing piano for about 15 years, and I am a pretty good at it.
Lauren: Apart from work and cheering, what are some of your favorite activities?
Erica: I love to read. Although Harry Potter is my obvious favorite, I also enjoy reading nonfiction scientific books. I just finished a book called “This Is Your Brain on Music,” by Daniel Levitin, which was fantastic. (Note: here’s a little interview Science Cheerleader did with Dr. Levitin .
Lauren: What are your plans for the future?
Erica: I am not entirely certain on my future plans. I will graduate from Boston College Nursing School next year with my RN. From there I either would like to attend graduate school to become a Nurse Practitioner or continue on to medical school. Either way my ultimate goal is to work in pediatrics.
Lauren: Why do you want to be a Science Cheerleader?
Erica: I want to be a Science Cheerleader, not only because cheerleading and science and two things I love, but because it will help to break that stereotype about cheerleaders. It will help people to realize that we are very hard-working, intelligent people. My teammates are some of the most amazing people I know, and I would love to help other people see what I see.