If Emily Sun’s pockets are full of goodies to distract and delight small fry (from Paw Patrol and superhero stickers to “freezie spray” for a quick numbing before inserting IVs), her head is also a treasure trove of kidstuff.
Lyrics to “Frozen” songs. Ana and Else references. Maybe even a ukulele song or two.
But Sun, who on Sunday will receive her Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree from the University of Virginia, also knows that pediatric nursing has as much to do with parents as it does with youngsters. So while she’s apt to hunker down on the floor to coax her small patients into conversation, she spends just as much time upright, listening to and tending the needs of worried grownups, explaining health topics in plain language and allaying their concerns.
The daughter of two immigrants from Hong Kong, who was once on track to be a teacher, Sun was drawn to nursing to “know people on a deeper basis, and really interact with both families and patients in a special way.” And if ever there was a student who experienced the wide-ranging profession that is nursing, sucking the proverbial marrow from her UVA experience – from researcher to scholar to leader to bedside caregiver – Sun is it.
After her first year at UVA, the Fairfax Station native worked as a research intern with nursing faculty members Emma Mitchell and Jessica Keim-Malpass, studying public perceptions of the HPV vaccine in social media and the feasibility of a self-collection test for cervical cancer, garnering a scholarly publication as a result.
As a second-year student, she was the only nursing student fellow in UVA’s Meriwether Lewis Institute for Citizen Leadership’s class of 2018, which included a six-week summer intensive training session for 24 young leaders with practical tools, like public speaking and collaboration, and two additional years of advocacy.
In her third year she headed to Bluefields, Nicaragua, for her community health clinical rotation. There she studied domestic violence and sexual health programs for women, an experience that “truly tied in the research we’d been doing into being able to see in person how resources can really benefit people in a community,” she said.
And in her fourth year, Sun was invited to tackle a distinguished majors research project, which focused on the before- and after-effects of a novel mental health first aid class and the extent to which the class increased nursing students’ mental health savvy, an experience that convinced her of the importance of mental health care.
“Something like cardiac arrest is a very dramatic occurrence,” Sun said, “but just like your body gets sick, your brain can get sick too.”
During her four years at UVA, Sun was also a faithful member of the Chinese Student Association; a steady presence at UVA’s Smith Aquatic & Fitness Center, where she lifted weights and played basketball; and even occasionally strummed her ukulele and sang cover songs for UVA-related charity events.
After an externship at the Children’s National Medical Center’s emergency room in Washington, D.C. last summer, Sun also completed a semester-long practicum in the intensive care unit at Augusta Medical Center in Fishersville. And while she’ll return to D.C. to work as a pediatric emergency room nurse starting in July, she said the depth and breadth of her nursing experience at UVA has prepared her well for just about any environment.
“It’s been a long, but really fulfilling four years,” she said, “and I’m just so thankful for the experiences I’ve had, and moving forward, feel really prepared and confident.”