Hannah and Isabella Gorrell have shared a lot of big moments – from taking their first steps to starting kindergarten, celebrating birthdays and finishing high school in the midst of a global pandemic.

On May 4, the Gorrell twins reached another milestone as they walked across separate PennWest stages to earn bachelor of science degrees in nursing.

Both Hannah, who attended PennWest Edinboro, and Isabella, who attended PennWest Clarion, took an interest in joining the helping professions at a young age.

“I’ve wanted to become a nurse since I was a little girl,” Hannah said. “When we were about eight, our grandmother used to take care of our great-grandmother, and we would help her do things. That really guided me.”

At 15, the Pittsburgh natives started working as pantry aides at a local nursing home. They later gained hands-on experience as certified nursing assistants while also competing in multiple sports at North Hills High School.

When the time came to select a college, Hannah felt at home in Edinboro’s state-of-the-art patient simulator labs. Isabella, who continued swimming at the collegiate level, immediately bonded with members of the Golden Eagles swim team during her visit and was impressed by Clarion’s nursing facilities and the recently redesigned Waldo S. Tippin Natatorium.

“Whether it was sports or friendships, we’ve always been side by side. So, we were a little sad to be separated at first,” Isabella said. “But we’re still always there for each other 100% of the time, no matter what happens. Even though we were separated, we did it together.”

Through professional nursing courses and clinical experiences, Hannah and Isabella learned to treat human responses to health and illness through the application of scientific knowledge. Both sisters credited PennWest’s expert nursing faculty and a tight-knit community of nursing students for preparing them to step into professional nursing roles.

“During clinicals, I saw so many things. They were great learning experiences, and I gained a lot of good friendships,” Hannah said. “Even when I struggled, Dr. [Vicki] Hedderick motivated me to keep going, study and know my material. That really helped me gain confidence.”

“The moment that confirmed my decision to become a nurse was sitting with a patient who was passing away,” Isabella said. “I sat there with them all day, and I just knew that was what I was supposed to do. I always try to put myself in my patients’ shoes and treat them the way I would want to be treated.”

In July, the Gorrells will join a team of medical professionals providing care to patients undergoing medical procedures in the med-surge unit at UPMC Passavant. Isabella hopes to eventually transition to the emergency room, and Hannah is interested in labor and delivery or postpartum nursing.

“Nursing is hard, but it’s so rewarding. Just knowing you're there to help people every day is special,” Hannah said. “You don't always know what people are going through. No matter what you do, just be there, help them and make them feel comfortable.”

PennWest's career-ladder approach prepares the highest quality professional nurses at the baccalaureate, master's and doctoral levels to meet the local and global holistic health-care needs of individuals, families and communities.