Madison Quinn ’19 thought her path through college was decided for her early. Both her parents are in real estate, and she thought she could find a similar career by starting as an undecided business major. In addition to the classes that form the foundation of Saint Joseph’s liberal arts education, she enrolled in some core business classes.
But just a few weeks into her college experience, Quinn was feeling unfulfilled.
“Part of being at college is being on your own for the first time, and with that independence, you get a better sense of what your likes and dislikes are,” Quinn explains. “It’s not that I disliked my business classes, but I realized I didn't fit in as well as I fit into my other classes. I know that not a lot of people say this, but I missed math and science.”
So before Thanksgiving break during her freshman year, Quinn changed her major. She had a sense that her passion for science would lead her to a career in the health care field, and chose interdisciplinary health services as her new area of study.
“[The field] was all very unknown to me, and so I was hesitant to tell my parents,” she says. “But I think they valued the fact that I knew myself enough to realize it wasn't for me. And because I was at Saint Joseph’s, I knew I had advisors and professors that were willing to talk to me and explain the transition, and that really made everything much more comforting.”
After the switch, things began to fall into place for Quinn. She helped coordinate Think Pink Week, a series of events to raise awareness about breast cancer. She enrolled in service-learning courses, which sent her to nursing homes and continuing care facilities to work with elderly patients.
One class in particular — Death & Dying, led by Frank Bernt, Ph.D., associate dean and professor of health studies — taught Quinn how to approach patients at the end of their lives.
“People think that you want to be a doctor, a nurse, a physician’s assistant or something like that because you want people to get better,” she explains. “But sometimes they don't get better. And I learned that sometimes you have to have a difficult conversation with someone to ensure that dignity and respect is withheld through the entire dying process. I think that kind of goes undiscovered until you're actually working in the field, and I felt very fortunate to be able to unpack those things so young and realize there is a right and wrong way to treat those situations.”
Quinn recalls one moment from the course that crystallized her path forward. On one of her visits to the hospice, she found herself in the area of a patient who was distraught and struggling. Like many young people experiencing medical work for the first time, she was afraid.