susan vontell classmates alumni cruise

Susan Vontell ’82 Becomes an Ambassador for the Center for Nursing Innovation

By Patricia Erikson

Susan Vontell, BSN ’82, MSN carves time out of her busy life as a Nurse Practitioner working as a Surgical Hospitalist at the Charlotte Hungerford Hospital in Torrington, Connecticut to read her alma mater’s alumni newsletters, as well as the online version of her hometown newspaper, The Lewiston Sun Journal. That’s where she heard the news about the creation of the Center for Nursing Innovation at Saint Joseph’s College. “I didn’t know anything about the new Center, but the fact that the College is pushing to get more alums involved in this initiative helped me get on board. When I heard, I wanted to help.”

Vontell knows firsthand about the importance of nurses and the nationwide nursing shortage. “When my class graduated from Saint Joseph’s College in 1982, that was the era of the first nationwide nursing shortage. It was easy to get a job; there were sign-on bonuses and incentives. The current nursing shortage has been challenging for the healthcare system and especially in rural states like Maine.”

Vontell has a commanding view of the healthcare system from where she works. As a surgical hospitalist on the general surgical service, she works with physician assistants, surgeons, and nurses as she manages a patient’s care from admission to discharge–anywhere from the office to the emergency room to the operating room. “The role of the hospitalist is expanding.  Most patients are admitted to a hospital and their care is managed, not by their primary care physician in the community, but hospital-based physicians and mid-level providers (Physician Assistants and Advanced Practice Registered Nurses).”

Seeing the nursing shortage challenges and how the College planned to address them, Vontell decided she wanted to make a difference. “My husband and I are at a stage in life when it’s time to give back. We look seriously at our charitable giving to organizations that have meaning for us.”

In spring 2017, Vontell decided to make a financial donation that would encourage a student to enter Saint Joseph’s College and pursue nursing. She created an endowed scholarship for first-generation nursing students from Maine and she dedicated it to her parents, naming it the George and Ruth Jones Nursing Endowed Scholarship. “My parents didn’t go to college. There were a lot of young women in my class who were first-generation college students as well. We all received financial aid and couldn’t have done it without that support. My parents wanted me to go to college, so this scholarship is in their honor.”

As an advocate for the BSN degree, Vontell was happy to support a scholarship for BSN students. “Since Saint Joseph’s, many of my classmates have gone on to earn advanced degrees. At an informal get-together at my house in the summer of 2016 with six alumnae, four had advanced degrees – a DNP (Robin Maloney McGuinness ’82), a pediatric NP (Karen Wheeler Madden ’82), an MSN (Sue Walsh Toolin ’82 is an educator in the ICU at UVM Medical Center), and then myself.  My BSN prepared me to enter a Master’s degree program at the University of Connecticut. I think earning a BSN is a springboard to furthering your career!”

To help the College address the national nursing shortage and establish the Center, Vontell has agreed to serve as a Nursing Ambassador, a nationwide network of alumni and friends of the College across 11 states who will support the Center in a number of ways, not only philanthropically, but by creating awareness of the Center through speaking and hosting events, writing letters, and participating in media coverage.

Photo caption: Susan Vontell ’82 gathered with classmates and friends at the Alumni Weekend cruise which departed from the Portland waterfront. Kim (L’Heureux) O’Toole ’82, Susan Vontell ’82, Lesley Archambault Nolan ’82, Susan (Mullen) Gillis ’82, Cheryl Sweetser ’81, Robin (Maloney) McGuinness ’82, Kathy (McGovern) Coutre ’82, Cindy (Shea) Jergyl ’82, Karen (Wheeler) Madden ’82, Sue (Wash) Toolin ’82 (Photo: Sarah Beard Buckley).

If you are interested in serving as a nursing ambassador and helping Saint Joseph’s College address the nationwide nursing shortage through innovative programming, please contact Joanne Bean for more information at

The Center for Nursing Innovation in Mercy Hall will include:

SIM Hospital Suite 
Expansion from a single Simulated (SIM) hospital environment to six SIM labs, providing hands-on training in hospital and home care settings;
Laboratory renovation and enhancement 
Upgraded Anatomy & Physiology and Microbiology labs used by nursing students;
Scholarships for first-generation Maine nursing students 
$1 million in scholarships designated for lower-income students to ensure degree completion;
Expansion of on-campus and online nursing education programs: 
To include an Acute Care Nurse Practitioner program and explore flexible pathways to the Ph.D. for nurses in Maine and nationally.

Join Us in Meeting the Challenge!

Following a $1.5 million challenge grant from the Harold Alfond Foundation this year and a $2 million lead gift from Jeanne and Edward Arnold, we are now focused on raising the remaining $1.5 million in matching funds by November 30, 2020, to establish this critically needed Center.

By joining our Center for Nursing Innovation Ambassadors Program, you can be part of the solution to our national nursing crisis. Please contact Joanne Bean for more information at