One of the most demanding programs at City College is the nursing program where only the most dedicated students can succeed, and Professor Sarah Orr is not the average instructor.
While working at Cottage Hospital she was discovered by Michelle Gottwald, the nursing program director. The unexpected offer to apply for an instructor position gave Orr the opportunity to fulfill an old dream.
“I’m still blown away that I have this opportunity to be here with all these co-workers and my students. It’s amazing,” Orr said. “I didn’t know when I got hired what I would be teaching. But luckily I am teaching fourth-semester students.”
As a child, Orr grew up in Miami and dreamed of becoming a marine biologist. But her interest for nursing surfaced during a tragic period after her mother was diagnosed with cancer.
“Every student, every nurse I’ve ever met has one or two things that have got them into nursing,” Orr said. “Mine was caring for a sick family member. Every nurse that gave her hope and kept her alive for so long gave me hope too. That’s when I decided that I can do that.”
Shortly after her mother’s death, Orr enrolled at the College of Saint Joseph of nursing in Ohio. Orr earned her Master’s degree in Science of Nursing and made a five-year plan to work as a bedside nurse. Five years after that, an opportunity came up at City College.
“Sarah’s attitude and approach is fresh and enthusiastic,” said Cynthia Bower, nursing department chair. “Students respond well to her willingness to listen and learn along with them.”
In class she is not the strict, monotonous instructor that students of the program have come to expect from a nursing professor. With an energetic attitude and a sarcastic undertone, she walks around the room illustrating how to use a respirator.
Having a family with three children and a dog, while lecturing two days of the week and working one or two 12-hour shifts at the hospital, the busy Orr likes to describe herself as a multitasker.
“I always try to tell my students that you got to do something good for yourself too, because nursing school is stressful,” Orr said. “If I’m not at school or at Cottage I’m usually out running, walking the dog with my husband, or just doing something outside to kind of de-stress.”
The program does not only test the student’s study habits, but also their mental fears. Blood and bodily fluids are very common phobias that they have to overcome when dealing with someone’s life.
“Nursing is like a first date with somebody’s life in your hands,” Orr said. “It’s pretty shocking when it comes to the things that patients trust you with, and the things you see are sometimes disgusting.”
Orr teaches her students that authoritarian leadership comes second to providing good patient care.
“She always had more confidence in me than what I had in myself,” nursing student Kary Fabbre said, who has taken Orr’s classes for two semesters. “She always made me feel comfortable taking care of people. It was okay to make small mistakes. But you don’t want to make big mistakes when someone’s life is in your hands.”
While at City College, Orr has motivated and inspired her undergraduate students to delve into the professional world.
“I like watching the students grow,” Orr said. “Watch them from first semester, being afraid to go into a patient room, to become competent and safe when providing great patient care. It’s amazing. It feels so rewarding.”