Graduating Ambassadors Reflect on Experiences in the CCI


Thomas Ball, School of Medicine

The Compassionate Care Initiative enables nursing and medical students, faculty and staff to come together and form genuine, respectful relationships in a setting of growth and healing.  This community has been and continues to be a source of nourishment and support in my life.  The vast opportunities the CCI offers have enabled me to avoid burnout. More than that, the CCI has been a vehicle for me to grow towards my full potential both in terms of how much I care for patients and how aware I am. The combination of these two factors translates into the way I interact with patients and the way I act when I’m not being observed. It motivates me to go beyond what’s on the checklist because the CCI has helped me to appreciate in a real sense that every patient is someone’s mother, someone’s father, someone’s daughter or son. It has provided supportive, rich, multidisciplinary community.  The Compassionate Care Initiative has helped me to avoid becoming jaded during medical school and has enabled growth towards my full potential as a person and physician.


Erika Fernandez, BSN Student

I have had the opportunity to serve as a Student Ambassador for the CCI since it was first established. My time as an Ambassador has been invaluable. I, now, fully comprehend the importance of cultivating resiliency within all health care professionals and hope to help establish resiliency building and contemplative practices at Mayo Clinic in Rochester Minnesota where I will be employed as an oncology nurse. I personally love writing, meditation, and exercising so these are practices that I usually gravitate to when I feel like I need to center myself. As an oncology nurse, such activities will help me to deal with stressful situations and patient interactions that may be emotionally taxing. There is no doubt in my mind that my time in CCI as a nursing student will help me to thrive as a nurse. 


Robert Abbott, MD Student

The CCI has been the single most important collection of like-minded healers over the course of my entire 5-year medical school journey. It is nearly unimaginable to think what my years of medical school would have been like without the gracious programming and open minds of the CCI. The CCI states its mission is to promote human flourishing and I feel there is no better way to describe my current state other than pure flourishing.

From the drop-in yoga and meditation sessions to the free interdisciplinary retreats, the CCI is fostering community in creative and nourishing ways. While I may be moving on to a medical residency outside of Charlottesville and never actually took a single formal class in the School of Nursing, I will continue to call McLeod Hall my home and the CCI my loving family.

As I joked to my fellow students and retreat facilitators as part of the final student retreat of the spring season, even though I hadn't been a part of a traditional "team" since high school, I felt as if I was living out my "Senior Day" within the beautiful gardens of Morven Farms with the team of which I had always been a part. May we all continue to nourish others and flourish while doing so.


Evie Stinger, BSN Student

At the core, the CCI to me means loving myself and others. I think learning about and being involved with the CCI has helped me realize the importance and the many different ways possible to try to achieve this. Life can be unfair and rough, but if we can love ourselves and our world, I’ve found it can be more beautiful and a much smoother ride. I’m passionate about nursing because, if I do it with compassion like the CCI has showed me, it can help me love myself and our world.


Michael Swanberg, PhD Student

The CCI has enriched my UVA student experience. Through the generosity of Dean Fontaine, Maria Tussi and John Kluge, I was able to attend the Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico, for a 10 day retreat. The summer before my PhD program began, I had the privilege of returning to the Upaya Zen Center for four months of meditation training with Joan Halifax. The CCI programs have helped to foster my meditation practice and this has helped to sustain me through 4 semesters of graduate-level statistics, and the challenges of working as a teacher and a student simultaneously.


Eliza Urtz, BSN Student

The Compassionate Care Initiative has taught me the importance of being compassionate towards myself, so I can be more compassionate and present with my patients. I have met so many wonderful people, nursing and medical students, hospital staff, professors, and resiliency session leaders through my time with CCI. I will carry their lessons with me, long into my nursing career.


Gene Donavan, CNL Student

The CCI, and all it offers allowed me to better understand how a balanced mind offers a balanced life. I found myself better capable to seek and practice a healthy balance between school and life when I took the time in all aspects of my life to pay close attention to what was really happening in each moment. After consideration and contemplation I could prioritize my responsibilities and desires and better act in a manner that made room for me as an individual participating in what is often a complicated life. It will be a lifelong pursuit of balance, but I have been given a larger understanding of its importance and a number of useful practices.


Octavia Winfield, CNL Student

As I joyfully prepare to graduate, there are so many wonderful things I could list about my experience at the University of Virginia School of Nursing program. However, the Compassionate Care Initiative is a feature that really stands out. As a Certified Massage Therapist for 15 years, I deeply value the importance of self-care, in both mind and body. As I entered nursing school, I wanted to keep my massage skills honed as I encountered the demands of school. The CCI here at UVA has given me the opportunity to continue to practice massage while keeping a manageable school/life balance. I have had the opportunity to use my skills to help classmates, faculty and staff find that important balance throughout my two years at UVA. The CCI mission of offering massage therapy to destress each semester throughout the year is truly a gift to the faculty, staff and students. Through my work at CCI I have formed relationships beyond the classroom. I see faculty and staff around grounds and the conversation is not only about the academic world we have in common but touches a deeper level. Being a part of this initiative keeps compassion and caring an intrinsic part of my development as a professional nurse. I feel so thankful and fortunate to have been part of this unique organization.


Dallas Ducar, CNL Student

For small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable through love. The CCI has created a foundation which radiates love and has thereby helped me to find a space which allows my authentic self to flourish. This love is only matched by the longing for knowledge and the ability to be with suffering, both virtues which I have learned through my time with the CCI. Along this path, I have gained new understanding of what it means to be human and live fully. I am immensely grateful for the people I have met along this path and wish to offer a deep bow to the countless teachers (patients, colleagues, and yes actual teachers) who have guided in deeply illuminating ways. In the words of Dr. Albert Schweitzer, "Sometimes our light goes out, but is blown again into instant flame by an encounter with another human being. Each of us owes the deepest thanks to those who have rekindled this inner light." My light continues to be kindled by the CCI and the contemplative practices I have learned. As I proceed as a Psychiatric-Mental Health RN, and continue in a Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Program, I hope to use what I have learned to rekindle this light in others.


Erin Johns, BSN Student

Throughout my time at UVA I have tried to get involved in many clubs and organizations on Grounds. I was realizing, however, that I was not feeling fulfilled with my participation and would often end up leaving the group. When I finally stumbled upon the CCI, I immediately felt a sense of purpose. It presented to me the perfect mix of room for personal and professional growth. I have loved being a part of an organization that focuses on bettering oneself in order to better the lives of the people with whom we interact. I've loved learning more about resiliency practices because I truly believe that healthcare professionals, in particular, are often too occupied with taking care of others to take care of themselves. I am proud to have worked with an organization that recognizes the value in self-care and brings awareness to this seemingly taboo topic in the workplace. I am so grateful to have been a part of the CCI community and I hope to bring its mission and ideals to my new workplace!

Rob Abbott is a Medical Student in the Class of 2017. He was inspired to pursue clinical care because he desired to bear witness the breadth of human experience. he strives to live his life as a "reflective human being" working with fellow compassionate healers at U.Va. He desires to promote the values of resiliency and holistic, compassionate care during his clinical training as a medical student. He also has a dedicated self-care practice involving a personal (at home) daily yoga practice,  meditation practice all interspersed with a variety of dynamic reflective micro-practices.

What inspired you to pursue clinical care?                                      

In witnessing the breadth of human experience, from tremendous joy to overwhelming suffering in both my early medical work as an emergency room scribe to my typical day to day life as a reflective human being, I have come to realize that my calling in medicine resides in cultivating a space where others can heal and ultimately return to the greater wholeness that is their true being.


What motivated you to become a Student Ambassador for the Compassionate Care Initiative?               

I have joined the CCI out of a deep desire to work with some of the most inspiring and (com)passionate healers at U.Va., knowing that it doesn't take just a typical “village” to raise a child or to heal one of its ill members, but a “village”  of people genuinely dedicated to providing for others in whatever way that will nourish their soul.


What goals do you have for implementing the CCI mission in the University Community? 

I plan to promote the values of resiliency and holistic, compassionate care during my clinical training as a medical student and actively hold a space for reflective self-practice through meditation and inter-disciplinary discussion among all members at U.Va. and the surrounding community.


How do you stay resilient?

I have a dedicated self-care practice involving a personal (at home) daily yoga practice, a once to twice weekly meditation practice all interspersed with a variety of dynamic reflective micro-practices or exercises involving gratitude, affirmation and positive intention.


Jaqueline Arechiga is a first year in the School of Nursing who is new to the Compassionate Care Initiative. She emphasizes the need to slow down and pause for reflection, in her personal life, and when she begins her clinical training. She believes that people desperately need to slow down and take time to be aware of silence.

What inspired you to want to be a nurse?

My sister was a year old when she went through a seizure in the middle of the night when I was around 8 years old. I was woken up in the middle of the night by my parents telling my brother, then 9, and I that we had to go to the hospital. After seeing my sister strapped up, struggling to move, my mom frantic with her lack of English and understanding of what was going on, I was confused and felt helpless. After watching the miracles at work through the team of doctors and nurses that were helping her, I aspired to become someone who helped others as well. Over time, I decided nursing was the right path for me because it seemed more personal and I loved the idea of connecting with patients.


What motivated you to become a part of the CCI?

I actually heard about it through my Nursing Leadership in Action course and it sounded like a fascinating organization. After hearing about the goals and aspirations of the Compassionate Care Initiative, I felt that I had much of the same ideals when it comes to taking care of oneself in order to provide quality work in health care.


What goals do you have for implementing the CCI mission in the University Community?

My primary goal as an Ambassador is to make others aware of the programs that are offered and let them know that taking an hour away from school and work isn't hurtful. I desire to show others how helpful it truly is to give one's mind and body a break. Especially in a rigorous program like the UVA School of Nursing and in the nursing profession- people become exhausted mentally and physically, taking time to breathe is necessary.


What goals do you have for implementing the CCI mission in your professional role?

By becoming an Ambassador, I hope to remain involved with the Compassionate Care Initiative and integrate these ideas of compassion and caring into my clinicals and career in the future. Since I am a first-year and have not experienced these types of things before, coming in with prior knowledge will help me start taking care of patients in the best way possible.


How do you stay resilient?

I really like to clear my mind in a personal setting. I exercise at least 5 times a week to really release tension physically and take a step back from all the craziness that goes on in everyday life, because I feel like it’s important to take care of the self. I also like to stay away from the buses and walk without headphones to really appreciate the world around me. I feel like one of the things that we miss out being in such a busy, fast moving world, is the chance to slow down and appreciate the beauty of silence.


Gene Donovan is in his final year of the Clinical Nurse Leader Program. His undergraduate degree was in science and the following years he was immersed in the world of trade crafts, which offered him a chance to consider and experience how there is space for both science and compassion when providing care. 

What inspired you to pursue nursing?

As I considered my aspirations, I became increasingly aware of the choices that had led me to where I was, and what those choices meant for where I should go. I had often chosen occupations bringing me in community with others. Learning and sharing with others was often at the core of my desire to work. In contrast, there were other opportunities that were isolating but allowed for moment to moment pointedness.  The time and focus necessary in crafting wood or metal was freeing in its dedication to precision, while the time and focus necessary for serving others was rewarding in its dedication to interaction. Nursing, after much consideration and a plethora of experiences, was the right combination of in the moment precision and rewarding interaction.


What motivated you to become a Student Ambassador for the Compassionate Care Initiative?

I have become increasingly aware of the analogous nature between care and advice. If it is a goal to offer truly meaningful advice you must understand that person and have experienced the issue at hand in a way that allows you to give a part of yourself to another. I think that quality care follows that paradigm closely in requiring one to care for themselves if they have an intention of offering an honest compassion to another. I believe that the strategies and practices offered through the CCI are integral in creating healthy communities.


What goals do you have for implementing CCI's mission in the University Community?

It is my goal to learn and practice compassionate care with myself and those I have the honor to treat. It is my hope that the care provided in its mindful nature will allow others to better care for themselves and share that health with others.


How do you stay resilient?

I believe that I find my resilience in engagement. Whether it be hiking, playing music or sports, watching movies or playing board games. I find strength and calm when I commit to the momentary experience and forget what has been done as well as what needs to be done. 

Erika Fernandez desires to be emanate the values of empathy and compassion and her dream is to one day become a pediatric nurse practicioner. She thinks it is very important to tell her fellow classmates about the opportunities to de-stress during high stress periods through mindful lunches, CALM meditation, open meditation, and gentle hatha yoga. Erika hopes to find emotional and spiritual resiliency by engaging in different mediums, including the Compassionate Care Initiative. 

What inspired you to be a nurse?

My uncle, one of my heroes, passed away from ALS when I was in middle school. His passing really devastated my family. Throughout his sickness I felt helpless. I knew then that I wanted to pursue a profession within nursing, because I wanted to take care of others in the same way that I witnessed his health care providers take care of him - with empathy and compassion. My dream is to one day become a pediatric nurse practitioner, because in my opinion when it comes to moments of impact, profundity, and awe, there are few things in this life as powerful and as beautiful as touching the life of a child through nursing. All the pediatric nurses that I have spoken to agree, that the most remarkable thing about working with children, besides their endearing innocence, is their resiliency when facing illness.  Pediatrics is where I belong. It is my calling.


What motivated you to become a part of the CCI?

Jane Muir, a classmate of mine sent me an email about the CCI program and becoming a Student Ambassador. I was hooked after reading what the CCI program already had in place including a Clinical Ambassador’s implementation of "Purposeful Pauses" in the ER after a patient passes away and 5 minute meditations on floors.


What goals do you have for implementing the CCI mission in the University Community?

Simply put, with the help of fellow CCI Student Ambassadors I want to advertise the opportunities available to our classmates, as much as possible, so they can take advantage of all that the CCI program has to offer. Especially during mid-terms and finals week when students need resiliency the most. During the week, every week, students have the opportunity to de-stress during high stress periods through mindful lunches, CALM meditation, open meditation, and gentle yoga.


How do you stay resilient?

Last semester was a roller coaster. I’ve learned that you cannot selectively numb emotion. You can’t say: “Here’s the bad stuff, here’s grief, shame, fear. I don’t want to feel these.” You can’t numb those hard feelings without numbing joy and happiness. As future nurses we can’t practice compassion with other people if we can’t treat ourselves kindly. I am thankful for being in a nursing school run by nursing mentors that truly care about how we, as students, take care of ourselves. This semester I’m on a journey to treating myself more compassionately. What I hope for is to forge meaning from my biggest struggles and after I forge this meaning I want to incorporate it into a new identity. An identity that I hope will result after I take my traumas and make them part of who I’ve come to be. Take the worst events of my life and transform them into a narrative of triumph evincing a better self in response to things that hurt. I hope to find emotional and spiritual resiliency through different mediums, some of which are offered through the Compassionate Care Initiative. 

Montana is a BSN student who is motivated to shift the focus of health and wellbeing away from negatives. She works with the CCI to promote and plan events that encourage resiliency and compassion for fellow students. Through meditation, whether alone or at the drop-in sessions, Montana is able to stay centered. Montana also promotes personal resiliency by attending church every Sunday and learning for the sake of itself.

What program/year in the SoN are you?

I am entering my second year in the School of Nursing and I am looking forward to what it has to throw at me this year.


What inspired you to be a nurse?

For years I have disliked hospitals. I disliked them because I knew and chose to focus on the negative events that occur within their walls. However, I know that I want to help individuals and that I am very interested in the medical field. Nurses are able to build powerful bonds with their patients, and I want that. I want to not only help fix bodies, but to help fix hearts too. Sometimes visiting doctors and hospitals can be terrifying for patients, and I want to be there for them and help them get the help they need. I want to help shift their focus away from the negative, as I have worked to do the same for myself.


What motivated you to become a part of the CCI?

As soon as I saw the flyer for CCI at an activities fair, I immediately knew that at the very least, I wanted to attend some of the events. I know quite a few people that really focus on compassionate care in their own lives and I see how that has benefited them. I had secretly wondered what I could do to meditate and help myself in the same way. I knew that working with the CCI would be able to help me in that journey. As a Student Ambassador, I am able to make myself available and promote events so that others may find some of the same skills to build their resilience and compassion.


What goals do you have for implementing the CCI mission in the University Community?

I think the best way to help implement the CCI mission is to start small. My goal is to help plan CCI events and invite my friends and the class of 2019 to attend some of the drop-in sessions that CCI makes available to the community. Hopefully they will take the time to attend and find ways to help themselves become more resilient and compassionate to better prepare themselves for a life and career in the healthcare field.


What goals do you have for implementing the CCI mission in your professional role?

I have found great value in meditation. I had never really meditated before I started school at UVA. The guided meditations that CCI held allowed me to ease myself into meditation, which at first seemed a little intimidating. I have come to find the calm and peace that meditation offers, even from a mere 10 minute meditation. I am striving to meditate daily and to remember to take care of myself. I know that it will be hard to make myself available for others to the best of my ability when I don’t take time to focus on myself first. I also want to help those around me to remember to take care of themselves.


How do you stay resilient?

There are so many things I do to stay resilient. I attend church every Sunday to build a foundation in my religion. I talk to friends to make sure that I don’t isolate myself. I am constantly learning and searching for truth. Learning is one thing that I have found so important to staying resilient. I learn for the sake of learning. I have found learning to be a healthy alternative instead of focusing on negative things that occur throughout my day. It is a way to switch channels to something more uplifting and helpful.

Corinne Roberts is a first year in the School of Medicine. She attended UVA as an undergraduate as well, where she studied Neuroscience. In her gap years, she thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail, worked in an orthopedic clinic, and lived and worked at a yoga ashram. She seeks to incorporate her passions for nature and mindfulness with her ambitions to provide compassionate care through medicine.

What inspired you to pursue clinical care?

I frequently found myself as my friends' go-to person whenever they were dealing with a stressful situation. Supporting friends through difficult times allowed for much deeper connections and strengthened my empathy. When I started gaining exposure to the medical field, I witnessed the beauty of the relationship between compassionate care providers and vulnerable patients. I was inspired to become a physician that could make a meaningful impact on the lives of many patients.

What motivated you to become a Student Ambassador for the Compassionate Care Initiative?      

Meditation and yoga have had a profoundly positive impact on my life. Practicing mindfulness daily allows me to be more present and connected with myself, the people around me, and the environment. I wish to encourage mindfulness in others and connect with like-minded people.

What goals do you have for implementing the CCI mission in the University Community? 

My goal is to encourage my community to be more mindful and positive and to reduce the stress levels of my peers. I currently lead meditation sessions once a week through the student organization C.A.L.M. I also inform my peers of my practice and encourage daily meditation.

How do you stay resilient?

I ground myself with a few daily routines, which includes morning meditation and evening journaling. I try to take a step back when I find myself becoming too focused on school and go for a walk in the woods or read some poetry. I try to be aware of what situations give me energy and what situations consume it in order to use my energy wisely.