Nurse finds Abington degree a game changer in patient care

Abington Donna O'Neill 1

Registered nurse and Penn State Abington student Donna O'Neill, left, reviewed the content of the brochure she created with social worker Lonnie Beer at Holy Redeemer Hospital's hospice unit.

Credit: Pam Brobst

ABINGTON TOWNSHIP, Pa. -- The cool, quiet hallways belie the struggles occurring inside the rooms of the inpatient hospice at Holy Redeemer Hospital. Donna O'Neill, a student at Penn State Abington, works on the unit as a registered nurse, and she easily verbalizes her passion for working with patients on their final journey.

"I have the privilege of working with patients to help them maintain dignity, comfort and quality of life," O'Neill said. "My promise is to treat them as a whole person, to be open and honest with families, and to understand the awesome responsibility in my hands."

O’Neill recently experienced a game changer in caring for her patients and for her career. While enrolled in the RN to B.S. degree program at Penn State Abington, she became captivated by evidence-based practice and research.

"My education at Abington led me to ask questions, think differently, and pulled me toward research so I can change the care we give for the better," she said. "I was able to unite my education with real-world experiences. It brought the classroom to life."

O'Neill developed an educational brochure, as an outgrowth of a required capstone course at Abington, that spells out the curative, palliative and hospice care options. The reference piece she created has been adopted for use by nurses throughout the Montgomery County hospital.

“They are not just options for the terminally ill when nothing else can be done," she explained. "They need to be integrated throughout the continuum of care for those entering the final phase of a predictable, progressive terminal illness.”

For O'Neill, this official phase of her education culminates in a few weeks. She will walk as a student marshal when she graduates at the Penn State College of Nursing commencement ceremony Dec. 20. 

"I have the privilege of working with patients to help them maintain dignity, comfort and quality of life."

-- Donna O'Neill, RN

As a mother of four who works full-time evenings, she initially was unhappy about the new requirement to earn her bachelor's degree. But the experience has clearly changed her mindset. 

"The faculty at Abington helped me realize and appreciate the more academic and professional aspects of nursing, including communication, leadership, research, theory and critical thinking," she said. "Abington's curriculum inspired me to use my new knowledge in my everyday practice."

O’Neill applauded Abington and its RN to B.S. coordinator, Brenda Holtzer, as “strong, vibrant forces for good in the community."  

For more information on the RN to B.S. program at Penn State Abington, go to