Flynn Fellows learn to provide compassionate care to cancer patients in unique summer internship program

Over the last decade, several prestigious hospitals have selected 18 Sacred Heart University nursing students to participate in the Flynn Foundation’s oncology nursing fellowship program. This year, four out of the 37 Flynn Fellows came from SHU’s Dr. Susan L. Davis, R.N., & Richard J. Henley College of Nursing (DHCON).

The Flynn Foundation partners with several of the country’s leading cancer hospitals and undergraduate nursing schools to promote oncology nursing as a career path. The paid fellowships offer comprehensive clinical exposure to all aspects of oncology nursing and expert training in compassionate care including palliative care. “There is a critical nursing shortage and a serious need for more and better skilled oncology nurses,” said Frederick C. Flynn, Jr., foundation president and founder.

Flynn, a former DHCON executive in residence, established his foundation in 2014, a year after his wife died of ovarian cancer. He saw the need for skilled oncology nurses. He successfully piloted the planned fellowship at Greenwich Hospital and has since expanded it across the Northeast. In addition to Flynn’s personal financial backing, several philanthropic partners and generous individual donors have made the large and growing number of fellowships possible.

More than 3,200 rising senior nursing students have applied to the program since its inception. Of those, 300 were competitively selected by the various host hospitals to participate in this 8 to 10-week clinical immersion fellowship in oncology nursing at several top-tier hospitals. In addition to extensive clinical exposure, the program includes rich academic content. Fellows are also required to complete an “evidence-based practice” research project on some aspect of oncology that they present at the program’s graduation events.

“Sacred Heart is a valuable program partner because of the high quality of nursing students the University produces,” Flynn said. “To have four out of the 37 nurses in this year’s cohort come from SHU is very impressive. SHU’s nursing students are well prepared and very mature.” He also noted that SHU’s mission and values are compatible with those of the Flynn Foundation.

Over 165 of the 250 Flynn Fellowship’s graduates in the workforce currently work as oncology nurses. The others typically end up in high-skill functional areas such as the emergency department, intensive care unit and cardiology unit. Overall, the program is a win for the participating hospitals, Flynn said.

Because of the high caliber of DHCON nursing students, a $50,000 matching gift program to support expanding the participation of SHU students in this impactful program was recently established by the Flynn Foundation. The donated funds, along with all additional funds raised, will help ensure that SHU’s nursing students will continue to actively participate and gain the stellar experience that the Flynn Fellowship offers.

Our recent Flynn Fellows

Rising seniors Chelsea Bergamini, Abigail Cofsky, Colleen Glueck and Sophia McDonald were selected as Flynn Fellows this summer. Bergamini and Cofsky were fellows at Connecticut Children’s in Hartford. Glueck was at Yale New Haven Health’s Smilow Cancer Hospital and McDonald was at New York-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital.

Cofsky worked alongside a registered nurse in the pediatric inpatient and outpatient hematology/oncology unit at Connecticut Children’s and shadowed a palliative care team, social workers, pain team, child life specialists and others. “I was surrounded by a community of nurses and health-care workers who genuinely wanted to help me learn and succeed in nursing,” she said. “These experiences provided me with a more holistic perspective on oncology care that will guide me in better supporting my patients in the future.”

The fellowship helped her realize what direction she wants her nursing career to take. “Pediatric oncology is not always the sad scene that many people think it may be,” Cofsky said. “The strong, creative and courageous children and families I met made me excited to go to work every day.” She encourages other nursing students with even the “slightest bit of interest in oncology” to apply to the program.

“I became interested in the Flynn Fellowship when a SHU nursing student did a presentation about the program a few years ago at a student nursing association meeting,” McDonald said. “I kept this fellowship in the back of my mind and continued to think about it until I was finally able to apply.”

McDonald said the experiences she had with Morgan Stanley Children’s staff and pediatric patients and their families were life changing. “I was able to be part of something that really made a difference in people’s lives, and my excitement about pediatric oncology is greater than ever,” she said.

She said the program helped her gain confidence in her abilities to provide exceptional care. “The Flynn fellowship is in a class by itself,” she said.

Unparalleled experience

“This program is incredibly important,” said Karen Daley, DHCON dean. “Nursing students don’t get in-depth training in oncology. It could take years for a nurse to get the experience to enter oncology. Becoming a Flynn Fellow not only fast-tracks the nursing student, but it also allows them to make an impact. There really is no other training for aspiring oncology nurses like this.”

Daley said cancer patients are going through some of the most difficult times of their lives. They are receiving strong medicines and could be dealing with end-of-life care. A nurse who isn’t trained well can make the situation worse for the patient and their family, she said.

“This program reflects everything we teach in the DHCON,” Daley said. “It’s aligned with our mission, our values, our knowledge and our compassion. It’s a huge and unique opportunity for our students.”

Those interested in supporting the SHU Flynn Oncology Nursing Fellowship Program Fund should contact Stacy Velarde, executive director of advancement for the DHCON and College of Health Professions at or (203) 921-7572.

Originally published on August 17, 2023, on