In this conversation, Shannon and I discuss how her interest in healthcare led her to discover  perfusion as a career, and how after winning SpecialtyCare’s perfusion scholarship, she can pursue her dream without all of the the financial burdens. Enjoy the conversation.


Speaker 1: Bringing you conversations with leaders within the operating room and healthcare community, this is Scrubbing In.

Todd Schlosser: Hello, and welcome to this episode of Scrubbing In, a podcast powered by Specialty Care. I’m Todd Schlosser, and today, my guest is Shannon Barletti. In this conversation, Shannon and I discuss how her interest in healthcare led her to discover perfusion as a career, and how after winning Specialty Care’s Profusion Scholarship, she can pursue her dream without all of the financial burdens. Enjoy the conversation.

Todd Schlosser: Thank you so much for joining us here on Scrubbing In. My guest today is Shannon Barletti. She is currently enrolled at the Thomas Jefferson University Institute of Emerging Health Professionals to become a perfusionist. Is that correct?

Shannon B.: It is, Todd. Thank you so much for having me.

Todd Schlosser:  Absolutely. We’re thrilled to have you on. Now, I love to start out with this type of question every time, because I’m much more interested in the human element of what goes on in the operating room. So what is it that drove you to want to work in that space, in healthcare?

Shannon B.: Sure. Between the ages of 12 and 16, both of my grandmothers were, unfortunately, diagnosed with chronic health diseases. One with Lou Gehrig’s disease, and the other with COPD. So those years, as I was choosing what I wanted to be when I grew up, I was seeing a lot of nurses, I was spending my weekends with my grandmother. As a teenage girl, I can certainly help with repositioning, doing little things for people. So I was around a lot of healthcare. I was around a lot of nursing. I saw nursing as a wonderful profession that would really allow me to use my strong interest in the sciences, as well as medicine. But, also, incorporate that compassionate caring for others that really expressed who I was as a young person.

Todd Schlosser: Sure. I actually have found in starting the podcast this way, with this sort of question every time, that the majority of people we talk to have a story a lot like yours. Where it was a father who had health issues, or in your case, it was your two grandmothers, I guess, that both had health issues, and they had someone in their life who they sort of, whether they looked up to them, or just saw that as a compassionate route to take their own life. I wondered if that was what brought you into nursing school, because you have worked and graduated from the School of Nursing at, I believe it was Drexel University in Philadelphia, correct?

Shannon B.: Sure. I went to Abington Memorial Hospital’s Dixon School of Nursing, which is no longer around. It was a hospital-based program.

Todd Schlosser: Oh, okay.

Shannon B.: Yeah, so when I went to nursing school, I actually went to, it was one of the only night and weekend programs in the area. So I worked full time and I went to nursing school at night and on the weekends, and graduated with my RN. Then, I went back to school at Drexel University to get my bachelor’s in the science of nursing.

Todd Schlosser:  That’s very intense to work full time and then nights and weekends become a nurse, like on the side. That must’ve been-

Shannon B.: Yes.

Todd Schlosser:  … a lot to take on at once.

Shannon B.: It was. Looking back, I’m not sure how I did it. I think a lot of people who would … If you talk to any nurse, they’ll say, “I’m not sure how I made it.” But, I’m so glad I did, and I really think that it’s the passion to want to help others and to want to make a difference that really gets you through those grueling moments in school.

Todd Schlosser:  Absolutely. I’m sure that’s true. And I’m sure it prepared you for where you are now. I would like to start to sort of get into that if we could. I’d imagine you practiced as a nurse for a few years, and then decided to make a shift into perfusion. So how did you first find out about perfusion?

Shannon B.:  I started working as a nurse as a cardiac telemetry step-down nurse. Then, I moved into the cardiac surgery intensive care unit. When I accepted that role there, they have each nurse who’s coming into the unit, go to the OR to actually shadow a cardiac surgery case. It was there that I saw perfusion for the first time, and I instantly became enamored, if you will.

Todd Schlosser: Sure.

Shannon B.: I met a few perfusionists that day. I saw what they did. I saw the case. I saw the way that they managed the patient, the way that they worked with the surgeon and the rest of the team, and take care of the patient, and really use a lot of science, a lot of physics, and a lot of hemodynamic monitoring. Just the way that everything came together, I [inaudible 00:04:47] and I saw the passion that the perfusionists, that day, had for their career, and I said, “Oh, I have to do this. I really have to do this.”

Todd Schlosser: Right. So at that point was it an immediate shift in your thinking about where you’re going to be going in your career, because there was a career path for growth in nursing itself. But, was that the day that you decided that you were going to switch and move into perfusion?

Shannon B.: Well, I decided that day that I really was interested in perfusion. I started to look at schools. Unfortunately, in my area, I’m from Philadelphia, Cooper University Hospital used to have a perfusion program, and it was actually closing that year. I know. So I said to a few of the perfusionists that worked at the hospital where I was, “Listen, if you ever hear of a program that’s anywhere close to here let me know, I want to go.” It took me, I would say, four years from the day that I shadowed to find a program and make it possible for me to go to school.

Todd Schlosser: That ultimately was the Thomas Jefferson program, up there at Thomas Jefferson University, correct?

Shannon B.:  Correct.

Todd Schlosser: That’s awesome. So really, you were about to go, or you were thinking about going and one school shuts down and you have to wait for another school to open up in your area so you can go to it.

Shannon B.:  Yes.

Todd Schlosser: Oh man, well I’m glad that Thomas Jefferson opened its perfusion school, so you were able to do that. What was the application process for perfusion school like, because I understand it’s pretty competitive, and class sizes are very small?

Shannon B.: It is incredibly competitive. I am one of eight students in my class.

Todd Schlosser: Wow.

Shannon B.:  I know. I look around every day at my classmates and I say to myself, “Oh my gosh, they are so … they’re amazing. All of them.” It’s so humbling to be around them every day, because I ask myself, “How did I get here? These guys are great.” But, the application process was quite grueling. I had to apply, I had to get letters of recommendation. I had to do extensive background checks and clearances. There was an essay that was required. Then, I had to go in for interviews. Now, I knew that this is what I wanted, and it was in the area that I wanted. So I applied early decision. When I tell you, I was the only one from my area at my interview, there were people from Ohio-

Todd Schlosser: Wow, okay.

Shannon B.: There were people … Yeah. There were people from all over, and I sat there as a bundle of nerves just-

Todd Schlosser: Oh, I’m sure.

Shannon B.: Yeah.

Todd Schlosser: It’s almost like you’re about to go onto The Voice or something, except you need this for your career and it’s the only school you can go to because you’re locked into your area, and it just opened its doors.

Shannon B.: I’m pretty sure I would’ve been less nervous meeting Adam Levine that day, than sitting in Dr. Morris’ office.

Todd Schlosser: Well, obviously, Dr. Morris liked you.

Shannon B.:  I guess.

Todd Schlosser: How long is the program up at Jefferson? Is two years or is it 18 months? I know some of them differ.

Shannon B.: Okay, so our program is two years. You must already have a bachelor’s degree before you can apply to the program.

Todd Schlosser: Right, which you already had because you had the bachelor’s in nursing.

Shannon B.: Yes.

Todd Schlosser: How long have you actually been in the program at Thomas Jefferson?

Shannon B.:  I’ve been in the program since October. We are about to finish our second semester. I actually took a break from studying to talk to you.

Todd Schlosser: Oh, thank you so much for making the time. I understand how important studying is.

Shannon B.: Of course. It’ll actually be my last final as a junior student, so it’s very exciting.

Todd Schlosser:  Awesome. I’m sure that’s very exciting. I remember finishing finals and just feeling the wave of, “Oh, thank God that’s done.”

Shannon B.:  Sure.

Todd Schlosser:  How did you find out about the Specialty Care Perfusion Scholarship?

Shannon B.: I found out about the Specialty Care Perfusion Scholarship, I went to an open house at Thomas Jefferson University the year that it was opening. Like I said, I’ve been planning this for a few years, going to school. I met a student there, Kyle Zelesnick, I believe is how you pronounce his last name. And, he had just found out that he had won the Specialty Care Scholarship that year. I remember just watching him interact with the people at the open house and listening to him talk about perfusion, and I thought, “Wow. This guy is … he is a great student and that’s amazing that he won this national scholarship. That’s crazy.” That’s how I found out about it. Then, I wound up going to going to the same school and here I am.

Todd Schlosser: That’s awesome. When did you apply for the Specialty Care Scholarship?

Shannon B.:  I applied for the Specialty Care Scholarship in February of this year.

Todd Schlosser:  Was that process as grueling as the application for perfusion school?

Shannon B.:  You know, it was. I’m sitting here thinking to myself, “You know, each thing that I take on, it gets progressively more nerve wracking.”

Todd Schlosser: It’s funny, when you do one thing that you thought was nerve wracking, and then you’re like, “Oh, that, I guess, wasn’t that bad, because I got through it.” You move on to the next thing that’s even more nerve wracking, and while you’re in it it’s insane, and then you look back and you’ll be like, “Oh, I guess that was fine because I got through it.”

Shannon B.: Sure.

Todd Schlosser: What was the application process for the perfusion scholarship like?

Shannon B.:  It was somewhat similar to the application to perfusion school itself. I needed a background, a resume, a CV, letters of recommendation, both from my program director and then from another person of my choosing. There was a personal essay of less than 1,000 words to be written, as well as transcripts, and I believe that was it. Then, afterwards, after reviewing all of that, I was contacted by the committee for the scholarship, and I sat on a panel interview with them.

Todd Schlosser: Now, was that panel interview in person or was it over the phone?

Shannon B.: It was over the phone, which, honestly, I found to be more nerve wracking-

Todd Schlosser:   Right, because you can’t read body language.

Shannon B.:  … than if I could see. You can’t, and you don’t know when to start to answer a question, whether to know when someone’s finished talking. You can’t read body language.

Todd Schlosser:  Exactly.

Shannon B.:  Again, I would’ve rather been on The Voice.

Todd Schlosser: So let me ask you this, so I guess if you started in October, and it’s a two year program, you’re going to graduate around that time in 2021? Sorry, 2020.

Shannon B.:  In May of 2020. I suppose it would be an 18 month program then. It’s about 20 months. The difference is, we still have classes and clinicals throughout the summer, so I don’t get a summer break.

Todd Schlosser: Oh, okay.

Shannon B.:  A big advantage to continuing school throughout the summer is you don’t lose those clinical skills. I find that in nursing programs too, when you take a break, a week off … If I had a week off from perfusion school, I found that when I came back, such as after the holiday break this winter, my skills were a little rusty. I could not imagine what it would be like if I had to take three months off and then start back in September.

Todd Schlosser: That’s a good point, I didn’t think about that. I realize you’re probably not in there doing cases by yourself, clearly.

Shannon B.: Never.

Todd Schlosser:  I’d imagine that that also comes into play when you’re just … when you graduate and you’re a perfusionist, maybe take some time off, that’s going to be an issue when you get back on the case and you’re brushing your skills back up.

Shannon B.: Oh, of course. Running the cardiopulmonary bypass machine is not like quite riding a bike.

Todd Schlosser:  Not at all, no. So let me ask this. What are your plans post-graduation? So May 2020, when you graduate, are you planning on staying in the Philadelphia area or what’s your plan at that point?

Shannon B.: Well, I hate to sound unprepared by saying I don’t necessarily have one. I have just found, in my career so far, that when you get yourself completely set on one idea, “I want to do this. I want to work at X hospital.” You close down so many doors that you didn’t even know could be open to you in so many different ideas. So I would say that when I graduate, what is most important to me is finding a strong team and a program with surgeons and perfusionists who I really look up to and I really admire, because I feel that when I graduate and I become a graduate perfusionist, that’s really my time to kind of get into my own art of perfusion, if you will.

Todd Schlosser: Sure.

Shannon B.:  I want to learn from people who I really, really admire and who I want to be like when I grow up, in a sense.

Todd Schlosser: Sure, I get that. That’s great advice, especially from someone who started wanting to be a nurse, went to nursing school, graduated, worked as a nurse, and then decided she wanted to switch paths and become a perfusionist. You’ve obviously lived that advice.

Shannon B.:  Sure. I mean, when I started nursing school, I thought I wanted to be a psychiatric nurse practitioner, and I became a cardiac surgery ICU nurse. So I learned then and there that I was never going to completely set myself to anything other than trying my absolute best wherever I am.

Todd Schlosser: Well, I think that’s a great place to close. Shannon Barletti, thank you so much for joining us here on Scrubbing In, we appreciate it.

Shannon B.: Thank you so much, Todd.

Todd Schlosser: Thanks for listening to Scrubbing In. Please take a second to give us a rating on your podcast app and subscribe so you won’t miss out on what we have coming up. See you next time.