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As the Page Turns

Recognizing the different schedules Penn Nursing alumni keep, a virtual, asynchronous book club answers the call for many looking to connect with former classmates and explore industry-relevant issues.

By Christina Hernandez Sherwood

As the 2020 election drew near, Annie Perng, MSN, CRNP, CWOCN, Nu’13, GNu’17, wore a lanyard around her neck to shifts at the Harron Lung Center that read “Ready to vote?” When patients asked about it, Perng spoke with passion about the importance of not only voting, but of looking beyond the presidential race to the down-ballot contests that could impact the local justice system.

Perng was well-versed in judicial system injustice issues, in part because she was a member of her division’s social justice committee. But she had also recently read Just Mercy, the 2014 bestselling memoir chronicling lawyer Bryan Stevenson’s efforts to get a wrongfully convicted man off death row—and discussed it with dozens of her fellow Penn Nursing alumni.

“Reading it, you definitely feel a lot of pain and sorrow over the historic injustices and the people who are still living it,” Perng says. “It’s hard to just move on with your life as if your patients and your community aren’t affected. We know these issues are pervasive.”

Just Mercy was the first pick of the Penn Nursing Alumni Book Club, which kicked off in June 2020 as a new way for the school to support its alumni, virtually—it is entirely online and asynchronous. Club members discuss each selection in a private online forum over the course of several weeks, and can post questions or comments on the forum from anywhere, at any time.

“Nursing alums work all kinds of different schedules,” says Monica Salvia, associate director of alumni engagement. “This is a way to connect at whatever time makes the most sense for them.”

The book club also hosts regular live virtual events. When the club read A Good Provider Is One Who Leaves, a multigenerational saga of global migration with a Filipino nurse as a central character, an accompanying live event featured three panelists discussing their personal experiences, along with research on and advocacy for Filipino nurses in the U.S. In a separate session, author Jason DeParle joined the group for a live talk.

Heidi Elgart RN MSN CRNP Nu’91 GNu’98, course director of the Adult Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Program at Penn Nursing, says she loved the opportunity to hear more about the book—straight from the author. “I wanted to know more about the characters, the background stories,” she says. “I wanted to know what he didn’t put in the book.”

Along with helping her reconnect with former classmates, Elgart says the book club has inspired her to read books she would have never reached for on her own. “I’ve gained so much from reading them, whether it’s a clearer understanding of nurses who immigrated to the U.S. or thinking about how our actions with patients in the ER—or on my trauma service—can be interpreted,” she says.

The club reads one book every couple of months, and a schedule is posted to keep members on track. Most selections are voted on by members from among a handful of options. After Just Mercy, all the books have featured a health care angle woven into the story line. Other selections have included Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb, a therapist who recounts her own time in therapy; The Great Believers, a novel by Rebecca Makkai set in 1980s Chicago amid the AIDS epidemic; and The Beauty in Breaking, a memoir by emergency department doctor Michele Harper.

Though Perng always wanted to participate in a book club, it was the Penn Nursing connection that finally inspired her to make the commitment. “I don’t know of any other health care colleagues who can say that they still connect with alumni friends in this way where we talk about matters that involve social justice, health care access, mental health needs,” she says. “It’s been so interesting and a great way to expand my world.”

Going strong with over 400 members, all alumni, students, faculty, staff, donors, and friends are invited to join at www.pbc.guru/nursingupenn.