Academic Planning >>

Skip to main content

Susan Krause Flavin, PhD, RN, Nu’18,

I was a relatively new nurse, perhaps two years out of my hospital-based RN diploma program. I was working in a very fast-paced cardiothoracic ICU in Philadelphia.

At the time, the chief of CT surgery was a very brash, very demanding, and a very skilled surgeon. He could bring residents to tears, simply by his interrogation at morning rounds. He was very respectful of nurses, but still - we cowered when we knew he would be making rounds.

One evening, as he approached one of his post-op patients that I was caring for, he looked at me, and said “come here, young lady”.

I was shaking. Terrified that I had done something wrong. Terrified he’d ask me about some lab value and I’d be stymied.

He said, “You’re new here.” It was more of a statement than a question.

“Yes sir, Dr. Brockman. I am. But I’m continuing to try to learn as much as I can,” I said.

He said, “Come closer.” Then he proceeded to point to the patient in the bed and said “I’m going to teach you the most important lesson you will ever learn as a nurse. That patient? Is someone’s mother/daughter/sister-friend. They are NEVER the “patient in bed x.” I’ve never forgotten that night - almost 30 years later

I’ve spent the last 20 years in pharma. Every participant of every clinical trial I review - is ALWAYS someone’s “mother/sister/daughter/friend”. It has served me well.

I am an 11-year survivor of breast cancer. I was diagnosed in 2009, shortly after my then two-year-old underwent cardiac surgery for a congenital defect.

It was those experiences as a patient that afforded me a new glimpse into my own mortality and prompted me to return to school for my PhD at the Medical University of South Carolina. While there, and through my work at Johnson and Johnson, I began to notice the difference between the “haves” (breast cancer patients with unlimited support systems, social support, financial support), and the ‘have nots” – those who were diagnosed with rare diseases who were disenfranchised, their diseases weren’t in the mainstream, etc. It provided the framework for my dissertation study looking at the differences in perceptions of social isolation and social support in two groups of rare lung disease patients.

I have led a remarkable life, a 6-time marathoner, and a triathlete, having competed in over 15 triathlons, including 3 half-Ironman distance triathlons. A life filled with lessons. But always, always a NURSE.

To submit your own story, visit