Alumnae Spotlight – Tess Carstensen ’12

Tess Carstensen grew up in the small picturesque town of Brant Lake in the Adirondacks where her high school graduating class was forty five students. From Brant Lake to Troy was in many ways like coming to a big city. For as long as she can remember Tess wanted to be a nurse, except for a brief time when her mom told her she wanted to be a dolphin trainer who played the autoharp.

It was the caliber of the nursing program that brought Tess to Russell Sage, and she is so pleased at how well it prepared her for a nursing career. And though she didn’t come for a women’s college she feels very grateful for that experience. She feels that RSC helps students to find their voice and enables them to be themselves, speak up for themselves, and have the confidence to know, ”You got this.” That personal growth piece of an RSC education prepares women to speak up in a boardroom, or try something new like a kickboxing class, or have the courage to send a difficult email to your boss. She also noted that living in a building with 100 other women you learn much about strength, patience, and negotiation skill that you can’t learn in a classroom.

Tess found the nursing program at RSC to be much like a 2nd family, you start and finish with the same people and you get close. She is grateful for professors who cared so much about her success – Kathy Buono tutored her in her office and Michelle Haywood who helped make the program less stressful.

Today Tess is an ER nurse at Albany Medical Center, a Level 1 Trauma Center. She works long hours in a stressful environment and is never bored. It has taught her to never take a moment for granted. She meets people on what is often the worst day of their life, and she views it as her job to do everything in her power to improve it. She finds there’s a great reward that comes from a parent hugging you and thanking you for helping their child or a patient being grateful you were there for them.

Tess’s love of nursing has led her back to graduate school to pursue being a Nurse Practitioner. Her coworkers have been super supportive of her decision knowing the stress it puts on her, and that support keeps her perseverance where it needs to be to accomplish all that is demanded of her.

One of the many hats that Tess wears at Albany Medical Center is being a forensic nurse. It’s truly a passion of hers. When someone has been sexually assaulted or a child has been abused, forensic nurses provide comprehensive care both collecting evidence and assessing medical needs. This can include the exam itself, following up with the patient days later, and testifying in court.

At the end of the exam, every patient gets a “We Care” bag. This bag contains toilette items to shower while at the hospital, a full change of clothes, gift cards to grab something to eat and two very important items. One, is an encouraging message from volunteers, who are often survivors themselves. She has discovered incredibly moving messages inside those bags. One patient told her that she posted those notes on her bathroom mirror when she got home from the hospital to get her through each day for a long time. The second item in the bag is a teddy bear or a stuffed animal. These soft critters provide comfort to adult patients just as much as children, if not more.

A We Care event takes place at SUNY Albany every year as a collaborative event with Albany Medical Center where the bags are put together. This year, they put together over 700 bags. Tess is also a regular lecturer for the nursing program at RSC about the We Care program and sexual assault.

In her personal life, knowing how to balance is something she is always working on. It’s hard to not take work home, even if it’s only in her head. With working full time, being a part time graduate student, and wearing many other titles like aunt, daughter, and friend, life can be overwhelming. During the semester, it’s not uncommon for her to be running close to empty— something she’ll admit not being very good at monitoring. She is striving to pay more attention to self-care. This year she has discovered yoga and found that it is helping to find some of that inner peace she needs. Yoga has helped her to appreciate time away from electronics and take time just for herself. She’s realized that you can’t pour from an empty cup and without the right amount of self-care, you can’t adequately care for others for long.

Outside of work, Tess likes to play hard with coworkers, friends, and family. She loves getting to the lake to chill and relax with her siblings. She love to travel, go whitewater rafting, and doing social planning for her department. She also told us that people may be surprised to learn that she loves to knit. She makes baby blankets, scarves, hats, and afghans designed with the cancer ribbon in the different designated colors.

Her advice to current Russell Sage students is to “stop stressing so much about the future and slow down. Enjoy your time at Russell Sage, living with your best friends, and worry no further than your Friday night plans. As for your career, pick something you’re passionate about and go for it. If it doesn’t pan out the way you thought: Second careers happen, my job is living proof. I work with many second career nurses of all walks of life and ages. There’s always time to make a change. You can do anything you want.”