Top Fil-Am nurses share success stories as leaders
WASHINGTON, DC — Inspired by the life of Florence Nightingale – the 19th- century nurse who helped revolutionize the nursing profession – three Filipino American nurses recalled their climb to success and challenged their peers to not simply be content as bedside nurses, but to also become leaders capable of changing the workplace.
Health care reform, they all agreed, has posed threats to the profession that need to be addressed. Among them: the stress and strain placed on nurses with bigger patient loads resulting in diminished care for patients.
But Obamacare, they pointed out, has also offered opportunities for nurses to make improvements in the same way Nightingale pioneered and pushed for higher standards and quality care.
“Nightingale did a lot to change society’s approach to treating the sick,” said Lorna Imperial Seidel, a geriatric nurse practitioner and president of the Philippine Nurses Association of Metropolitan Washington, D.C. (PNAMWDC). “She was a strong advocate of personalized care, one that looks after an individual’s mental and physical health. She was ahead of her time.”
Seidel is co-author of a book, “Lead, Empower, Transform: You Can do it,” along with Jeanette N. Livelo, a nurse director at Massachusetts General Hospital, and Leticia C. Hermosa, a nurse attorney in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and president of the Philippine Nurses Association of America (PNAA).
Launched at the opening day of the PNAA national convention held here recently at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, the book describes the personal and professional challenges faced by the authors during their respective careers.
They were introduced by the moderator as “successful, influential and accomplished women from the nursing industry” whose “blended talents detail the importance of becoming exemplary and contemporary leaders in today’s fast paced world.”
“As we move towards the future, our landscape is constantly changing,” Hermosa told the more than 150 nurses gathered for the book launch. “In order to sustain our existence, we need to transform our way of thinking, not only as individuals but as members of society.”
In the book, Hermosa recalls her own transformation, from her childhood days in Baguio City tagging along her father at political rallies and learning about campaigns, to watching him confined in a hospital bed as he struggled with chronic heart disease.
“Every night a nurse came to my father’s room,” she writes. “She gently asked him if he was comfortable, fixed his bed, positioned him so he could breathe well, adjusted his oxygen and IV fluids, then turned to me and my mother, and asked if there was anything we needed.” She goes on to describe how the nurse diligently checked on her dad every hour.
“The care and compassion displayed by that nurse remained in my memories over the years,” Hermosa writes. “She would never know how much she influenced and inspired me to be a nurse.”
Hermosa eventually went into nursing. In 1973, she left for the U.S., worked full-time as a nurse in various positions in Boston and completed her master’s and doctorate degrees in nursing. After also earning a law degree, she thought she was finally returning to “normal life” only to find herself organizing the Philippine Nurses Association of New England, which grew from 15 nurses in 1990 to 120 members today.
‘Leading with a servant’s heart’
Livelo writes that her mother was her family’s Florence Nightingale who was “very strong and determined” and “never gave up.” When her father suffered a stroke at age 65, it was her mother who nursed him back to health, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. “My mama was the best nurse I’ve ever known,” she says. “Her caring attributes, her compassion and dedication to my dearest Papa and to our family is truly unequaled.”
Prior to leaving for the U.S., she worked as a private duty nurse to affluent patients in Forbes Park. “For these privileged patients, the resources available are limitless,” she writes. “What a big difference from the limited access to health care that exists for our indigent patients.”
These heartbreaking experiences, she explains, inspired her 35-year nursing career. “It truly touched the deepest recesses of my heart that will further advance my resolve to be of service to the less fortunate.” She describes it as “leading with a servant’s heart.”
In 1999, after earning dual master’s degrees at the University of Massachusetts in Boston, she was offered a job as nurse manager of an ICU unit. She encountered some resistance from some doctors because she lacked managerial experience.
“But I spoke and told them my background and that I know I will be able to handle it,” she writes. “If I have not advocated for myself and if I remained timid and did not show them my worth and what I can bring to them, I would not have been where I am now.”
To Livelo, the administrative nursing position was “my defining moment to showcase my leadership talent and skills. I was the first Filipino American nurse that was given a nursing leadership position in this institution.”
Like Nightingale, who conducted extensive research and analysis on a wide range of issues including hygiene, hospital administration and health care for the poor, Livelo’s field of research includes understanding the organ donation process. Her doctoral thesis was “Knowledge, Attitudes and Experiences of Filipino American Registered Nurses in the United States Toward End-of-Life Care.”
Seidel, who also co-wrote another book, “Finding Time to Care for Me: A Nurse’s Guide to Self-Care,” talks about being a caregiver for her mother and mother-in-law who suffered from Alzheimer’s.
“My years of experience in nursing care allowed me to be more responsive to their individual needs,” Seidel writes. “I was able to step up to the plate and do what was necessary to help them understand their new reality and designed a regimen that they can easily adjust to. As much as this was a new beginning for all of us, we continue to live our social lives with much joy and create beautiful memories together.”
Seidel adds: “From the lessons I’ve learned, I’ve made it as part of my lifelong mission to ensure that people suffering from Alzheimer’s are better equipped to have a ready-made identification stitched or attached to every piece of clothing they wear.”
In one harrowing incident involving her mother while on an out-of-town trip, the hospital was able to use the contact information attached to her dress and get hold of Seidel in time.
Seidel also advises nurses to get involved in worthwhile causes as a way of “deepening ties of camaraderie” with the broader community. She is particularly proud of PNAMWDC’s health and wellness programs, free health screenings at community events and medical missions.
During the question-and-answer period following the authors’ presentations, Christina Dimafiles, a critical care nurse manager at the Houston Methodist Hospital, asked how a young nurse like herself, who is also a mother of a 10-year-old son, could break through the barriers and advance in her profession.
Livelo responded that one must excel in order to advance to the management level. In the book, she notes that “the climate at work is competitive and changing rapidly” and that “we are now operating in a for-profit world.” Livelo’s advice is to be “proficient in your skill sets” by pursuing advanced degrees. “In the world of nursing nowadays, a doctoral degree is by far the sure way of getting ahead and be a valuable commodity in the nursing profession.”
As part of its goals, the PNAA, which has more than 3,000 members out of the 75,000 Filipino and Filipino American nurses in the U.S. today, plans to increase the number of nurses with master‘s and doctorate degrees.
“We also want to ensure that nurses engage in lifelong learning to gain the competencies needed to provide care for diverse populations, and prepare nurses to assume leadership positions across all levels,” Hermosa said.
“As the population of minorities and immigrants increase, I envision the role of nurse leaders to be more complex and to have a wider scope,” Hermosa pointed out, adding that PNAA must be an active participant in decisions that would shape the future of nursing.
“Florence Nightingale is alive and well in our nursing profession,” says Joy Arellano of Ft. Washington, Maryland, president-elect of PNAMWDC. “We now work in a high-tech driven health care world, but our nurses continue to exemplify the values of compassion and quality care that are crucial to nursing today, values that Nightingale herself personified in her lifetime.”