Feature Stories Alumni: Jillian Bettencourt ’17, ABSN ’23: A Childhood Dream Come True

Jillian at UMassD in 2023
Jillian Bettencourt '17, ABSN '23 was thrilled to return to her alma mater for an accelerated bachelor's degree in nursing.
Feature Stories Alumni: Jillian Bettencourt ’17, ABSN ’23: A Childhood Dream Come True
Jillian Bettencourt ’17, ABSN ’23: A Childhood Dream Come True

Bettencourt’s fruitful academic experiences at UMass Dartmouth turned her life-long passion into a dream career and shaped her into the medical professional she is today.

At the tender age of 5, Jillian Bettencourt ’17, ABSN ’23 was a little girl with an insatiable curiosity for human anatomy. She was always with a children’s physiology book in her hands, flipping through the pages with a fascination that would evolve into a latent passion. She spent her childhood shamelessly indulging in new medical knowledge and enthusiastically sharing it with her family.

“Ever since I was little, my mom knew I was going to be in healthcare,” Bettencourt said with a warm smile. As she matured, her interest deepened when her grandfather who was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and her grandmother had congestive heart failure. “Even at 7 or 8 years old, I was writing notes to my grandparents’ doctors trying to figure out what was wrong with them.”

Despite her affinity for human sciences and determining diagnoses, Bettencourt never considered herself being a medical professional and didn’t always excel in a traditional academic setting. After graduating high school, she enrolled in the College Now program at UMass Dartmouth in hopes of rebuilding her GPA and changing the trajectory of her life.

“When I started at UMass Dartmouth, I was taking generalized studies, but had no idea what I was going to declare as my major,” Bettencourt said. “My mom was the person who introduced me to medical laboratory sciences (MLS). She sat me down and confidently told me that she thought this was where I belonged. She recognized my inner self when I couldn’t.”

When Bettencourt embarked on her MLS journey at UMass Dartmouth, she expected a rigorous workload and complex course material. She expected long days in the lab and sleepless nights spent studying. While all proved true, she never expected the outpouring of support and encouragement from the UMassD community.

Jillian plays
Bettencourt vividly remembered playing "teacher" with her family and explaining the human eye as best as any child could.

Mentors Help Harness Skills for Impact

When asked about her favorite part of being a UMass Dartmouth student, Bettencourt gushed over the dedicated faculty members in the MLS department, especially Professor Frank Scarano, the first person she spoke to about her interests in the program. He paved a path for her to succeed as an aspiring medical laboratory scientist, which included being brutally honest about the utmost need for perseverance.

“He’s the most amazing human ever,” Bettencourt said. She knew it would be a mental battle to train herself to have a scientific mind, but Professor Scarano assured her that she had the grit to stay disciplined in human sciences. “If it weren’t for Professor Scarano and his initial confidence in me, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

“All of the professors in the MLS program were outstanding,” Bettencourt continued. “They gave me a foundation that helped me grow as a student and as a professional. I owe them everything because they gave me everything. They taught me so many versatile skills, and I learned how to really work hard to reach my goals.”

Having learned from a community of experts that built her self-confidence, Bettencourt was eager to put those medical skills to use and learn more from a professional standpoint. During her senior year at UMass Dartmouth, she landed an internship at Boston Medical Center that taught her how to be a skilled medical professional and leader.

Jillian & Scarano at nursing event
Bettencourt and Scarano posed for a photograph together in 2023.

From January to May 2017, Bettencourt partook in several opportunities to learn more about her field. Working 7 a.m.-3:30 p.m., she observed a Biosafety Level 3 tuberculosis lab, analyzed lupus antibodies (ANAs) in a chemistry dark room, and learned about CAR T-cell infusions, disaster preparedness (code triage), and even autopsies.

“Being at Boston Medical Center was an amazing experience,” Bettencourt said. “That was where I started to take what I learned in the classroom and really apply it in the real world. I had all the skills I needed to succeed, and I did.”

Inspired by connections made at UMassD and her internship at BMC, Bettencourt graduated in 2017 and began working at Rhode Island Hospital in the biochemistry department, where she made an indelible difference in the COVID-19 pandemic.

With her background in medical microbiology from the MLS program, she was a valued addition to the short-staffed microbiology department and at a field hospital at the Convention Center in Providence, RI during the pandemic. “I was running all the blood gases and processing all types of samples for the field hospital, so having such a solid foundation in MLS really paid off.”

After the pandemic, Bettencourt was particularly motivated to return to UMass Dartmouth for the Accelerated ABSN program, where she would spent 18 months earning her bachelor’s in nursing. She graduated summa cum laude in January 2023 with a 3.94 GPA and was inducted into the International Honor Society of Nurses (Sigma).

Jillian & mom at nursing event
Bettencourt lovingly chose her mother to honor her at the pinning ceremony for nurses.

In August 2023, she will begin working as a nurse in St. Anne’s Hospital’s cardiology unit, a place nestled right in the center of her hometown. It was where her grandparents received their care and where she first learned about her passion for medicine at a young age. She also has dreams of completing the doctoral in nursing practice program at UMass Dartmouth.

“I hope to give back in two ways,” Bettencourt said. “The first is as a scientist when I release high quality results for patients that come into the Trauma Center. It’s literally life or death, so they’re relying on me to provide quick turnaround times as soon as possible. We’re the unsung heroes of healthcare; we’re unseen and unheard of, but we help save lives every day.

“The second is as a nurse,” she continued as she fiddled with a golden caduceus necklace, a gift from her parents when she passed her National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). “I want to be there for my patients and put my best foot forward. I want to advocate for them and give them a voice.”

Equipped with skills and lessons needed for success, Bettencourt stands ready to embrace new challenges and make a profound impact on the lives of those she serves. With endless support from the UMassD community, her resilience proved unyielding and helped shape her into a successful professional. Now, boundless possibilities lie ahead for Bettencourt as a compassionate scientist, nurse, and individual.