Compassion influences valedictorian’s research focus

S ince the pandemic, many students have experienced increasing rates of depression and anxiety. But this can be doubly felt by nursing students, who encounter stressors in both classroom and clinical settings.
Priya Polanco understands these pressures all too well. She’s a graduating nursing student, a member of the Honors College, valedictorian and student speaker at her commencement ceremony.
When she thought about her own transition from high school to college and then the nursing program, she wondered if she could help her peers by learning more about what makes them anxious.

“It can be a big academic adjustment to the rigor of nursing school,” she said, “and we have educational clinical rotations where—for many of us—it’s our first time dealing with sick and dying patients.”

Priya is now a cardiovascular ICU registered nurse at Emory University Hospital.
Priya is now a cardiovascular ICU registered nurse at Emory University Hospital.

Polanco worked with Dr. Talecia Warren, assistant professor of nursing, to create a research plan, create an online screening tool, analyze the data and discuss questions. Through her research, Polanco found that on average, her peers experience normal depression levels, but elevated levels of anxiety.
Polanco has identified solutions too. She cites nursing-focused counseling and positive coping mechanisms as methods nursing students can utilize for help.
And her hard work has paid off in one respect—Polanco accepted a position as a registered nurse in the Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit at Emory University Hospital.

Q: Looking back, what are some things you’ve learned along the way?

A: Each semester seemed to move so slowly during the moment, but when I reflect, it feels like time passed quickly. I have learned a lot academically and clinically. I feel prepared for my next step of becoming a registered nurse. I have also learned a lot about time management and knowing when to ask for help. I’m very excited for graduation and everything that is next. I can’t wait to see how much my time at GCSU has helped prepare me academically, professionally and personally.  

Q: What led you to nursing?

A: When I was younger, I would help take care of my grandmother and my mom after she suffered an injury that left her temporarily immobilized. As I got older, I realized that I truly enjoyed learning about the human body and pathology, but really wanted the direct patient interaction that’s found in nursing. I wanted to be able to help people on their worst days and treat them with the same kindness and empathy that my family was shown. I knew that nursing would allow me the opportunity to do this, from an academic and clinical standpoint.
Q: Tell me about yourself and your interests outside of nursing.

A: I’m from Stone Mountain, Georgia. Outside of nursing, I enjoy playing tennis, watching anime and spending time with my family, friends and cat. My time here has been academically challenging but very rewarding. The community here, especially my friends and professors, has been very supportive. I’ve been a part of different groups and organizations on campus like the Honors College, Georgia College Association of Nursing Students and the Learning Center. I have been able to meet new people, have intellectual discussions on different topics, help other students and do my best to enjoy my time here.  
Priya's campus involvement have left her with copious decorations for her graduation gown.
Priya's campus involvement have left her with copious decorations for her graduation gown.