Salve Success: Serena Fox ’23, nursing major advocating for those with chronic illness
Facing college with a chronic illness
For many college students, the new independence gained by moving to school and away from the control and supervision of parental authority is undoubtably exciting. However, having to learn to take care of oneself can be daunting. For students with chronic illnesses, that feat is even more frightening. This is a fact Serena Fox ‘23, a nursing major and Pell Honors student, knows all too well.
Fox has type 1 diabetes, and rather seeing it as an obstacle to overcome, she has learned to see it through a lens of positivity and as something inspiring. Not only is she a nursing major, but she is the president of the College Diabetes Network (CDN) chapter and the hospital and family relations chair for SalveTHON on campus. Off-campus, she continues working for students and families in the need of support at Hasbro Children’s Hospital in The Adolescent Leadership Council (TACL) as a mentor for teenagers with chronic illnesses.
“I have always wanted to work for other people, simply because I know what it is like to deal with a chronic illness,” she said. “I have always wanted to be able to give back to people.”
Creating a community of support for chronic illness
The College Diabetes Network (CDN) chapter at Salve Regina works to provide support for diabetic students on campus during their transition from being under the care of their parents to fully caring for themselves on their own. Meetings are held to check in with each member on their illness management. Being able to create a community of friends and support at school is a great substitute for the support systems that the students of CDN left behind at home. Fox reports that she organizes guest speakers—such as a nurse working full time while managing her type 1 diabetes—who came to discuss her college experience and what it’s like in the work force, which is the next stage of transition for these students.
“At Salve, we have other diabetic students,” Fox commented. “There are about ten that I know of, and there could be more. Essentially for the College Diabetes Network, the goal is to provide support in periods of transition for college students with diabetes. Oftentimes, it’s someone’s first time away from home, and they have to take care of themselves alone for the first time, which is really daunting. We offer support and guidance to people that need help, and CDN obviously offers so many resources.”
In addition to providing a community support system, CDN runs a fellowship program on a national level for students with diabetes called NextGen Leadership Fellowship, creating an even bigger community for diabetic students across the country. Fox applied for it and was selected from a national pool of students to be in the NextGen Leadership Fellowship.
“CDN ran this program, and I kind of applied on a whim, and it turns out it was actually really selective,” Fox explained. “Only twenty people were chosen nationally, so I am representing Salve as one of the fellowship recipients.”
With the NextGen Leadership Fellowship, Fox is learning to advocate for and educate others regarding chronic illnesses. There are weekly meetings, and she must organize a community project. There’s also opportunities to learn from international speakers, network with other nursing professionals, a stipend to conduct work and the opportunity to attend one of three national conferences.
Fox is hoping to go to either the American Diabetes Association Scientific Session conference or the Friends for Life conference. The former is the largest diabetes conference in the world, where different clinicians share their research, and the latter is an event where families gather for peer support and learning sessions with doctors and psychosocial experts. The news of which conference Fox will be going to has not come out yet, but she is waiting in anticipation for the news, as it is a unique and exciting opportunity.
A dedication to helping others at Hasbro Children’s Hospital
SalveTHON is an annual fundraising event on campus aimed to raise money for Hasbro Children’s Hospital. It takes all year to plan, but the culminating event happens each spring with a 12-hour event. The goal each year is to provide help to Miracle Families, which are families with a child who has a chronic medical illness or disease. This year, Fox was a representative of the Hospital and Family Relations Chair, making her the liaison for the families and the event. The SalveTHON committee, in which Fox was one of the top five fundraisers, were able to raise $17,048.74 in donations.
“It’s a twelve-hour day, and each hour has a certain theme, with a different activity every hour,” explained Fox. “This year we had a paint hour where we painted pictures, we had a riff off, and we also had an escape room hour…. We also Learn a dance throughout the day, because the event is sponsored by Dance Marathon.”
Fox’s dedication to helping children in need of support at Hasbro Children’s Hospital goes beyond her work on campus for SALVEthon. As a patient of Hasbro for her chronic illness, she strives to serve as a role model and provide support for teens following behind in her footsteps. For the past three years, she has been working with The Adolescent Leadership Council (TACL) through Hasbro Children’s Hospital as a mentor for teens.
“I’ve actually been doing [TALC] for the past three years,” said Fox. “I am now the head mentor…. I really enjoy it!”
Through TACL, Fox works with social workers and psychiatrists having meetings with teens who have been treated at Hasbro or have a chronic illness. She explains that each group meeting has a theme—such as future planning, advocacy, doctor’s appointments and how to talk to a doctor. The goal is to instill confidence in young teens in independent illness management. Since the pandemic, the TALC meetings had to go completely virtual, but this has not dampened Fox’s passion for helping teeangers navigate such difficult challenges.
Plans for the future as a nurse
Fox hopes to take all of the experience she has gained through the College Diabetes Network Chapter, SalveTHON, the NextGen Leadership Fellowship, The Adolescent Leadership Council, and as a nursing student in the honors program with her after graduation and into her career. Having a chronic illness herself gives Fox first-hand experience with the struggles of the families and teens she supports through her work. She has taken the initiative to be able to do as much as she can in order to learn how to provide help and education to people with chronic illnesses.
“In the future, I hope to … become a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner,” said Fox.
Fox has a clear goal in mind, and she is finding unique ways to gain the experience and knowledge she needs to achieve her dreams. She has a lot on her plate, but she is taking it in stride and doing excellent things for her community on campus and at Hasbro Children’s Hospital.
Article by student writer Anna Downes ’22
Salve Success is a series of student success stories periodically featured on SALVEtoday. Check out the tag Salve Success for more stories.