Tell us about yourself.
What influenced you to become a nurse and eventually a nurse leader? I am a grateful nurse leader who came from humble beginnings. My story most likely parallels many of the stories of your readers. I was born in Cebu, Philippines and my family immigrated to the United States in 1986. We ended up in Illinois where a former nursing classmate of my mother invited all five of us to stay in the basement of their home for two weeks until we found an apartment. Most apartment complexes have a rule that allows only 2 people per bedroom and only same-sex siblings in the bedroom. The landlord in our apartment complex was nice enough to allow us to rent a more affordable 2-bedroom apartment as long as we “hid” my brother!
Looking back, I would say that was probably one of the most exciting and scariest time of our life as a family. We were given a clean slate but yet it was unclear what lies ahead for our family’s future. My brother, sister and I will never be able to thank my parents enough for the sacrifices they took and for leaving life as they know it in the Philippines and come here to ensure a better life for all us.
Without a doubt, my parents have been the most powerful influence in my life. They instilled in the three kids at an early age the value of hard work, being grateful for our blessings, and giving back to the community. They never told us what to do, but we know to do our best at whatever path we chose. I think it was my childhood upbringing that really solidified my desire to become a nurse at a young age. My mother was a public health nurse at Mabolo Health Center and my father was an engineer and a land surveyor. During the summer break and on weekends, I had an opportunity to either go with my mother to the clinic or with my father to wherever remote province he worked at.
I enjoyed the time I spent at the health clinic and the outdoors. At the health center, I hung out in the waiting room and played with other kids while their parents saw the nurse, doctor or dentist. I was the official taste tester of the food whenever the nurses hosted “Nutrition Day” and they cooked and showed the mothers in the community how to make healthy meals from vegetables grown in their yard. I also went with the nurses on home visits and spent many afternoons playing with the kids in their home while the nurses provided care to the homebound patient. As a nurse in the community, it was not unusual for us to hear a knock on our door in the middle of the night and my mom had to go to a neighbor’s house to deliver a baby or be the first one to assess an elderly neighbor who is sick.
On the other hand, I always looked forward to the outdoor activity that my father’s work brought. In a country where land is inherited from one generation after another, he was often called to divide the land that was to be passed down to the children. I joined him and his apprentices as they traveled throughout Cebu in our 4×4 Jeep Willy’s and navigating through steep mountain terrains, crossing rivers and creeks and getting areas that can only be reached on foot. While he and the men carried poles, coils of measuring tape and other instruments…my sole role on these trips was to carry the client’s file. A job I took very, very seriously. Once we get to the area where we need to be…I once again often hung out with the client’s family while my father and his men did their work. I played with the town’s children, climbing trees sometimes helped them with farm chores, watched the women cook in an outdoor wood stove with ingredients that were from the farm straight to the table.
It was through these visits to remote areas that I saw the difference between towns with access to health care and those that do not. In the mountain areas, where the nearest clinic might be 2 hours away…It was not unusual to see a child die from a fever of unknown origin, a teenager die because he couldn’t get vaccinated with a tetanus shot, several families getting stomach flu due to contaminated water. I saw as a child the difference that a group of nurses made in the slums of Mabolo and what impact they could have had in the remote areas of the island. These experiences left an indelible memory that made me want to become a nurse.
Describe your career progression from a staff nurse to your current role as the Nurse Administrator of Ambulatory Nursing Services at Mayo Clinic.
I would say that I took the scenic view in my education and career as a nurse. I had great plans to directly attend a 4-year university but had to put those aside when my mother was diagnosed with lupus during my senior year in high school. Since I was the oldest of three kids, I had to stay close to home to help drive my mom to her treatment and appointments. I was able to attend the College of Lake County and enrolled in the nursing program. I never lost sight of my goal to continue on and obtain a bachelor’s degree and told myself that I will continue on after my mom got better.
Upon graduation from community college, I worked in an oncology unit and then later transferred to become an operating room nurse in a 99-bed hospital in northern Illinois. My mother’s lupus responded well to the treatment and she went into remission. I found this as a great opportunity to find a nursing program that was flexible to the schedule of a working student. I enrolled in the weekend program at Alverno College in Milwaukee and attended classes every Friday, Saturday and Sunday for two years.
After 2 years in surgery and after graduating with my BSN, I became restless and decided I was still young and had many years left in my career and wanted to do something different. This was when I joined the Regional Organ Bank of Illinois (now Gift of Hope) as an Organ and Tissue Recovery nurse. It was tiring and emotionally exhausting responsibility with unpredictable work and on-call schedule but it was also very rewarding to be able to know that at the end of an 18-hour shift …there is someone who is able to have a better quality of life because of an organ or tissue I helped recover.
Five years later, I became the bone marrow transplant coordinator at the University of Illinois Medical Center. One of my greatest achievements at UIC was leading the multidisciplinary team that worked on getting the bone marrow transplant program accredited with the Foundation for the Accreditation of Cellular Therapy (FACT). It was also at this time that I went back to graduate school to pursue a Master of Science Degree in Human Services Administration.
I would say that each position built on what I had learned in the past one. In 2001, I was recruited as the Administrative Director for the Stem Cell & Bone Marrow Transplant Program at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. I was able to use my background in coordination, leadership, marketing to further their mission. Along with the staff and medical leadership, I also led the program into a successful FACT accreditation survey.
After awhile, my husband and I relocated to Atlanta where I held the position of Director of Bone Marrow Transplant at Northside Hospital and later as Director of Nursing Education for MC Strategies/Elsevier, a leading continuing education delivery site. I felt the need to be more involved with nursing again and was recruited to join Mayo Clinic in Arizona in 2005 to manage the Ambulatory Infusion, Apheresis and Dialysis units. I also became an accreditation surveyor for FACT and have led Mayo Clinic and Phoenix Children’s Hospital through four successful accreditation surveys. In 2012, I accepted the role of Nurse Administrator for Ambulatory Services at Mayo Clinic. In this position, I am able to influence the care outpatients receive from an interprofessional team at a crucial time in the evolution of our national healthcare delivery system.
What has prepared you for your current leadership role?
I held a series of progressively more responsible leadership positions prior to assuming this executive role. I took bits and pieces from each of these experiences and brought them to this position. Building from one level to the next helped me become the leader I am today. Each step gave me a new and broader perspective of nursing and healthcare. This allowed me to develop a more global appreciation for the system-level work that I do now.
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