From Engineering to Healing: Change of Plans Allows Alumna to Embrace her True Calling

3/6/2012

The man had been hospitalized for more than four months, far from his family, depressed, unable to speak any English.

The young translator at Yale-New Haven Hospital answered his questions in Russian. But it was his nurse, Julita Woroniecka Cinguina ’90, who truly spoke with him.

As his nurse, Cinguina took care of his many medical needs. But as someone who speaks fluent Russian, she was also the only person he could talk to about his life and family.

“I can see it in his eyes; he feels so much better,” she says.

“It’s an incredible feeling when you help someone. You feel like you’re on top of the world.”

Cinguina speaks quickly, exuberantly, her native Polish carrying through her voice. She sounds like someone on the top of the world, someone who has found her calling.

Cinguina is a clinical nurse at Yale-New Haven Hospital in New Haven, Conn., the primary teaching hospital for the Yale School of Medicine and a top hospital in the country.

At 44, she is new to nursing, having only entered the field about three years ago. Her journey from electrical engineering to motherhood to nursing, she says, teaches that you should follow your passion, that you can re-enter the workforce after time away and make a career decision at any age that changes your life.

“I’m so passionate about it—I love what I do,” she says. “I learn something new every day. I love it!”

One morning in late January, Cinguina speaks by phone from her home in Wilton, Conn.—a house surrounded by woods that reminds her of her childhood in Elk, Poland. It is her day off—she works three, 12-hour days that end up being 15-hour days with the commute and extra time she spends with her patients.

Cinguina works on the general medical floor at Yale-New Haven Hospital and treats patients with a variety of illnesses and health conditions, such as infections, diabetes complications, surgical patients, cardiac, renal, congestive heart failure, respiratory and other health conditions. The work is exhausting and stressful, but she obviously loves it. 

“It’s peoples’ lives that I have in my hands,” she says. “I always think of it that way.” 

The work is rewarding because simple things like adjusting a patient’s bed to make them more comfortable or the more complex managing of their pain medication all help a patient. So does just listening or holding a patient’s hand. 

While her time at Stevens may seem long ago, she uses technical skills learned there and in her past engineering work every day, she says. The physics and flow rate of IV pumps is just one example. Her electrical engineering degree also got her the job interview at Yale-New Haven Hospital. 

“I said: Thank you, Stevens, 20 years later,” she says. 

Cinguina’s interest in nursing was much inspired by her daughter Michelle’s battle with severe asthma as a young child. At one point, Michelle was on seven medications and gained 20 pounds from taking steroids. As a worried parent, no one was really answering her questions. Cinguina had to quickly learn everything that she could about asthma and its treatments. Over time, Michelle outgrew the asthma. But the experience reignited a long forgotten passion for Cinguina. 

She loved anatomy and physiology ever since she was a child growing up in Poland, she says. She was 15 when she, her brother and their mother, who had just gone through a divorce, left that country for a fresh start in Jersey City, N.J. Cinguina, who didn’t speak a word of English, attended Dickinson High School in Jersey City and taught herself English by reading the dictionary. When many kids in her honors math and science classes decided on Stevens, she went along, hoping to become a scientist.

“Stevens was wonderful,” she says. She fell in love with its peaceful campus and felt inspired by some great professors. Cinguina was elected to Tau Beta Pi and Eta Kappa Nu, the electrical engineering honor society, was a member of the Society of Women Engineers and played intramural sports. While she received many scholarships, she still had to work with the admissions office at Stevensand at AT&T Bell Labsin Murray Hill, N.J., to help cover tuition. She graduated summa cum laude. 

But not long after starting her engineering career with Con Edison, she discovered that engineering wasn’t her passion. Later, while working at Omega Engineering as an applications engineer, she quit to stay home withbaby Michelle while her husband, Michael, worked as an engineer and later IT manager with GE. After hersecond daughter, Catherine, was born, Cinguina worked part-time as a computer consultant. 

Today, her girls are 16 and 13, and their mother, who earned her nursing degree in 2009 from Norwalk Community College, has found her career path. 

And she’s not done. She wants to learn more, so she’s working on her master’s degree at Sacred Heart University to become a family nurse practitioner, an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN).This degree will allow her to diagnose and prescribe medication.  

One day, Cinguina would love to earn her Ph.D. in nursing and teach nursing students.But for now, she plans to spend the next decade earning her stripes as a hospital nurse. 

“I love helping people and making them healthy and happy,” she says. “When you’re sick, it may not be as easy toenjoy your life. 

“(As a nurse), there’s just so much you can do.”