Nursing from the Heart

In her first year on the job as a nurse, Julia Santucci ’19 found herself in the trenches fighting the coronavirus pandemic. She’s faced the challenge in stride, as nurses do, with courage, dedication, and lots of heart.

Julia Santucci ’19 spent her childhood at the beach, hanging out with her best friend, Jenna Carey ’19, and, when she got older, teaching kids—and adults alike—to surf. Back then, she couldn’t have known that someday she’d be on the front lines of a pandemic.

“I didn’t grow up knowing I wanted to be a nurse,’” she says. “But when I was in high school, my dad was in the hospital a lot. I saw what nurses did. I saw them save my dad’s life. I saw the huge difference they made for my family. The idea that I could do that for someone else was appealing.”

For those who know her, it just makes sense that Santucci would make a career of caring for others. “When we were kids, she would always become friends with people who needed a friend,” says Carey, who adds that in high school, Santucci would often make a point of sitting and talking with the kids who had special needs. “She’s very caring; She thinks of everyone else before herself.”

She’s also the kind of person who likes to learn and practice things until she gets them right. And nursing dovetailed perfectly with that quality.

“She had this quiet confidence about her,” says her pediatric clinical instructor, Kate Saylor, M.S. ’11. “She wanted everything to be perfect and she wanted to make sure she was doing everything correctly.”

The science of nursing fascinated Santucci, but when she started working with patients, she really fell in love. “I enjoyed my science classes, but once we started clinicals and I actually got to be in the hospital, I loved it. I knew that was the environment I wanted to work in,” she says.

She graduated from URI in May 2019, and in September, started as a nurse in the internal medicine unit at Rhode Island Hospital. She was nervous, but soon eased into the rhythms of hospital life.

“The hospital is its own self-sufficient little world,” she says. “When you’re in there, the outside doesn’t really exist.” Six months later, and the outside world breached the hospital walls in the form of the novel coronavirus. Santucci’s floor was the first to see the effects.

“As it got closer to the East Coast, we prepared, but it still seemed so far away,” she says. “Then, when it hit, our unit was the first to accept the positive patients. It’s unprecedented. We’ve never dealt with something like this in our lifetime.”

She’s tending to patients who’ve contracted the highly contagious virus, but, she says “I wasn’t so nervous for my own health in the beginning. I was more afraid of giving it to someone else.”

And Carey says that mentality perfectly defines Santucci. “She puts other people before herself, realizes the importance of what she’s doing, and doesn’t take it lightly,” says Carey. “She does everything with her whole heart, she’s not scared of much, and she wants to help others in any way she can.” •

— Grace Kelly

Photo: Nora Lewis