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The Double Major Dedicated to Women’s Wellness

Karina Rios, C’15, Nu’16 always knew she wanted to work in healthcare, but until she began studying women’s issues, and pursued a unique OB/GYN job-shadowing opportunity, she didn’t know quite where in the field she belonged.

Rios originally enrolled at Penn as a biological basis of behavior (BBB) major. “Luckily, I also took courses in psychology, criminology, and gender, sexuality and women’s studies during that time – and loved them all,” she says. “I also shadowed a variety of doctors, but I didn’t feel truly passionate about a particular field until I shadowed an OB/GYN team at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP).”

During that time, Rios witnessed an emergency C-section (due to fetal distress) and a natural delivery.

“I was so confused about what was happening, but the doctors and nurses all seemed so confident and at ease,” she says. “After the natural birth, I vividly remember the baby being handed over to the father for the first time, and I started to tear up. I couldn’t help it. I had just witnessed a miracle. Watching parents meet their child for the first time was one of the most fulfilling moments of my life. And, although I was just a bystander, I felt such strong emotions that, in that moment, I realized I wanted to work with women and infants.”

Rios decided to pursue two degrees – in nursing and gender, sexuality and women’s studies (GSWS).

“By also studying women in a context outside of nursing, I feel I’ll be better able to understand and tailor my care to their needs,” she explains. “I’ll not only consider their health status, but I’ll also be equipped to understand their lifestyles in the context of social status, race, roles and family.”

Rios says her dream career is to work as a women’s health nurse practitioner, specializing in adolescents. She has worked as a student nurse with this age group, and she truly enjoyed the experience.

Rios completed the coursework for her degree in GSWS this May, and she’ll finish her nursing program in 2016. She, and her sister – an architect who studied at the University of Florida and the University of California, Berkeley – are first generation college students, something she considers a huge motivating factor.

At Penn, Rios has stayed quite busy – playing on the varsity softball team during her freshman and sophomore years, as well as the National Colombian team; working with students at Huey Elementary School for two summers; assisting in a research study about adolescent Trichotillomania patients’ therapy-interfering behaviors; and proctoring exams at the Student Disabilities Center. Her GSWS senior thesis was titled “Living with Television: Orange is the New Black vs. The Realities of Incarceration Today.”

She says all of her experiences within the School of Nursing have been extremely positive.

“I found that every single professor has been more than willing to help me succeed,” says Rios. “One person that stands out in my mind was my anatomy and physiology professor, Connie Scanga, PhD, Practice Professor of Nursing. She knew my circumstances were unique, and any time there was a drop or a rise in my grade, she was fully aware and would address it with me. I’ve found that everyone in nursing genuinely wants you to succeed and will do anything they can to help you reach your full potential.”

Though she’s only completed one clinical rotation – Women and Infants – Rios says it’s been one of her favorite experiences, so far, within the School of Nursing.

“I was fortunate enough to study at HUP and see cases that I may never come across again,” explains Rios. “For example, I worked with a diabetic mother who had pemphigoid gestationis – a rare autoimmune dermatosis that occurs in pregnant women. I feel privileged to have these experiences and clinical instructors key to helping me become a better nurse, and a better person.”