Compassion and inspiration often fuel each other: Caring for others helps expand our imaginations, and our imaginations help expand how we care for others. Such is true for Fred Flynn and the Flynn Foundation, an amazing nursing fellowship program founded to help empower hospitals and their cancer care teams. Established in 2014 to honor Fred’s late wife, Susan, the Flynn Foundation’s Susan D. Flynn Oncology Nursing Fellowship program is an eight-week summer internship that provides aspiring nurses (aka Flynn Fellows) with comprehensive clinical exposure to all aspects of oncology nursing and expert training in compassionate care, including palliative care.
Fred and Susan enjoyed years of joy together with their beloved children, family, and community. In 2010, Susan was diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer. After three years of extensive medical care and despite her courageous effort, she passed peacefully surrounded by her loving family in 2013. Touched by the quality of care and compassion his wife received throughout her treatment, Fred was inspired to pursue a new goal: helping to effect greater change in the treatment of cancer patients and in the skills of the nurses who support them.
“I believe in the importance of giving back to help improve society. In my case, I was inspired by the quality of care my late wife received from her extraordinarily compassionate nurses during her battle with cancer,” he says. “To help address the critical need for more and better-skilled oncology nurses, my philanthropic interest and emphasis are focused on proactively and collaboratively working with leading hospitals and undergraduate nursing schools to help develop the next generation of oncology nurses.”
The Flynn Foundation has honored Susan’s memory since 2014, ardently working to bridge the gap between cancer patients and oncology nurses. “The Flynn Foundation’s mission is to attract, inspire, and help professionally develop the next generation of oncology nurses with the overarching goal of improving the quality of care for future cancer patients and their families,” says Fred. “Our valuable program partnership with NewYork-Presbyterian directly addresses its need for more and better-skilled oncology nurses and at the same time enables us to achieve our mission.”
The Flynn Foundation’s partnership with NewYork-Presbyterian began in 2015, supported enthusiastically by Rosemary Sullivan, Director of Talent Acquisition for Nursing at NYP. Since then, NewYork-Presbyterian has hosted 20 Flynn Fellows. Of the 17 in the workforce so far, 12 are already working as oncology nurses, including eight at NewYork-Presbyterian. In addition to these Flynn Fellows already at our institution, five Flynn Fellows from other participating hospitals now work at NewYork-Presbyterian as well. The program also has a rich academic component, including topical books, online courses, lectures, and applied practice in evidence-based research; experienced nurses—in many cases former Flynn Fellows—serve as individual preceptors for the participants, which distinguishes the program and significantly enhances its learning value and effectiveness. Overall, 14 Flynn Fellows work at NewYork-Presbyterian, including 12 as Oncology Nurses.
Kristen Peperone, a Flynn Fellow who was both stationed at NYP and now works for the Hospital explains, “I was able to get hands-on experience and learn best practices in patient care and do my senior Capstone on the unit where I was a Flynn Fellow. I was also able to make connections that helped me secure my first RN position on the same unit! After 6 years of being a bedside RN, I was promoted to Clinical Nurse Manager.”
The strength of the partnership between the Flynn Foundation and NewYork-Presbyterian enables many nurses like Kristen to immerse themselves in our campuses and explore the vastness of the fields that interest them. As Vice President and Chief Nursing Officer for NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center Joan Halpern, MS, RNC-NIC, NNP, NEA-BC, observes, “This exceptional learning experience in evidence-based oncology nursing practice has been foundational for the fellows in their approach to care. They have been able to match their passion and assimilate into a specialized culture of care. They have a jump start as students and continue to enhance and refine their practice with the support of the NYP team once they join us as registered nurses.” NewYork-Presbyterian and the Flynn Foundation’s dynamic pairing creates a nurturing and explorative experience that can often fundamentally transform how participants understand, approach, and deliver care. Jennifer Engel, a 2020 Flynn Fellow who was stationed at NewYork-Presbyterian and chose to stay with the Hospital after she graduated from the program, states, “Being a part of this incredible program has forever shaped me as a person…In eight weeks, I gained more confidence in my nursing skills than I could ever have imagined.”
Sally Gao, another recent Flynn graduate, offers that “through this program, I learned to cope with stress and grief and to maintain the emotional well-being of myself, my patients, and their families. Supporting the families throughout their challenging journey and ensuring the patient gets the best quality of life are very valuable skills that I got to experience and develop in this program. The emotions that one can experience through the program, from pure distress to happiness for a patient’s recovery, have all become a unique and memorable experience to me.”
The field of healthcare is fast and ever-changing, but Fred and the Flynn Foundation are optimistic and eager to continue honoring Susan’s memory and helping transform lives. “We recently announced a very exciting plan to expand our mission to improve the future quality of care for cancer patients and their families,” Fred says. “We are entering our second decade with a new name—the Flynn Foundation—and an expanded program scope, including significantly more Fellowship opportunities, an increased emphasis on training in palliative care, and more ongoing training and advanced educational opportunities for our program grads. Suffice it to say, this is an exciting time for the Flynn Foundation, our program partners, and our Flynn Fellows.”
Since 2014, 300 aspiring nurses have completed the Flynn Foundation’s unique Oncology Nursing Fellowship program, and of the 250 Flynn Fellows in the workforce so far, over 165 are already working as oncology nurses. The Foundation’s current plan is to expand from 37 Fellowship positions in 2023 to 60 by 2028 and also increase the size of their Jonas-Flynn Oncology Nurse DNP Scholars program, which since 2019 has awarded nearly $400,000 in scholarships to 15 Flynn Fellows pursuing their DNP degree. In the future, the Foundation also aims to add a Master’s degree scholarship program to further support the continuing professional development of its Flynn Fellows.
Learn more about the Flynn Foundation Fellowships at theflynnfoundation.org/fellowship.
This article was originally published on NYP.org.