First published in the May 7 print issue of the Glendale News Press.
In many ways, Aliana Di Piazza is enjoying her homecoming.
The Glendale native, who graduated from Crescenta Valley High School in 2017, left to study nursing at the University of San Francisco. In picking that career, she followed the footsteps of her mother and grandmother, who were both psychiatric nurses. After graduating last May, Di Piazza got to work studying for her licensure and returned home to hit the books.
This was the first step that brought her back to USC Verdugo Hills Hospital, where she was born in 1999.
“I was just drawn back to it in a weird way,” she explained in a recent interview. “I definitely cast my net far and wide. Going to school in San Francisco was a really great opportunity and I’m glad I went there for four years, but the way I got drawn back to this area was like fate. When I was studying, I wasn’t working or doing anything for that summer and I decided to volunteer at the hospital, because I had done that previously in high school.”
Di Piazza started volunteering there in June, while she studied away for her National Council Licensure Examination, or NCLEX. While there, she was also drawn to a new program developed by Keck Medicine of USC — the new graduate program — that brings in select new hires who earned their degrees within the year for a special 18-week onboarding designed to better integrate them into the hospital system.
“We definitely bring them right into the family,” said Ashley Kimmel, the manager of clinical education and nursing excellence who runs the program for Keck. “This is going to give you a lot more detail and support through the process. This is an 18-week program that’s going to get into the nitty-gritty, all the nooks and crannies and what we’re about in the Keck Hospital system. It’s going to give you growth and development in your abilities as a nurse. You’re getting more time and one-on-one attention, specific to that learner.”
New graduate programs are used in hospital systems nationwide, though it was new to Keck at the time. Di Piazza was among the dozen selected for Keck’s inaugural class of the program.
“These new graduate programs are so competitive, especially in Southern California. I was hitting brick walls and not getting call backs for a while,” she said. “You have to work really hard to do these applications and prove yourself after graduating nursing, especially when you’re trying to go into a specialized unit.”
Di Piazza got her licensure in August, entered that program shortly after and as of this year, is a full-time nurse working where she was born — quite literally, as she is an obstetric nurse.
“The same doctor who delivered me, he’s still currently practicing,” she said. “He laughed about it and said, ‘I don’t think I’ve actually worked with somebody I delivered before.’”
Kimmel, who worked as a nurse in Florida before joining Keck nearly two years ago, said the new graduate program can be a vital tool for bringing in strong local talent at the starts of their careers and retaining them long-term. The enrollees go through a series of classes and workshops that help them get to know other staff members and get hands-on experience in a variety of hospital procedures.
Much better than her own experience, Kimmel said.
“I had one week of orientation, we kind of got thrown in a couple of classes and we were on our way to new units,” she recalled. “We had less than nine weeks of training, and this was a specialty area as well. In my practice, I’ve seen that organizations typically shorten their education and training hours and programs, so I was really happy to see this was in development.”
Kimmel added that staying on the nursing path now, after two years of the COVID-19 pandemic pushed many nurses and doctors past their breaking points, lends a lot of character to those students who nevertheless competed for a slot in Keck’s program.
“They really rose to the occasion,” she said. “They knew what they were signing up for. COVID was already here when they signed up to be nurses, went through the program and graduated. They didn’t shy away from it.”
Currently, Di Piazza works the night shift and specifically handles the post-partum care. She has already attained a career highlight in her short career at USC-VHH. In December, she assisted her stepmother in the birth of her half-sister. Moving forward, Di Piazza said she wants to cross-train on labor-and-delivery. She said she feels lucky for having gotten back to USC-VHH, in such a supportive environment that allowed her to take on a specialty right away.
“You have to really explain why you want to work in OB and go from there,” she said. “Very, very few people get to go into a specialized unit right after nursing school, so I consider myself very lucky and grateful for that.”
It’s a special story to tell, especially right now. National Nurses Week began on Friday, and Mother’s Day is tomorrow — which means Di Piazza can doubly celebrate with her mother and grandmother.
“They’re both in the psych nursing world, so me being in OB is definitely a 180,” Di Piazza said, “but it’s nice to have them to tell stories to and to have as an inspiration.”