Celebrating the Year of the Nurse in 2020

The World Health Organization (WHO) has designated the year 2020 as The Year of the Nurse and Midwife in celebration of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Florence Nightingale.

During this year of recognition, Oak Point University will celebrate our own community of nurses with events and activities honoring our faculty, students and partners. And we invite you to join us!

More information to follow soon!

Featured Nurse of the Month

January’s Nurse of the Month: Dr. Reem Azhari

Dr. Azhari began her healthcare career as an operating room nurse. But as she gained experience building teams of different medical professionals, she found herself pulled into more managerial, administrative, and executive roles. Dr. Azhari says that her administrative experience, particularly her interest in leadership and development, led naturally to teaching.

While working at Resurrection Medical Center, Dr. Azhari created a program to educate OR nurses—an effort that resulted in her transitioning into her current position as Oak Point University’s first Endowed Chair of Interprofessional Education. Dr. Azhari aims not only to build the school’s IPE scholars program, which graduates nursing and health sciences students ready to enter the workforce in situations demanding collaborative practice; she also seeks to weave interprofessional education throughout the curriculum as a whole, from the bachelor’s through the doctoral level.

In addition to her commitment to interprofessional education, Dr. Azhari is dedicated to educating students about and meeting the needs of vulnerable populations. Part of this interest has involved serving two terms as Director of International Health for the United Nations Association-Greater Chicago Chapter, as well as her current role as the faculty advisor for the Oak Point-United Nations Association. She has also been involved with medical and peace missions in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and the Philippines.

Dr. Azhari was also featured in Oak Point’s “Amazing Campaign,” with her photo displayed on billboards, buses, and bus shelters all over the city. You can also hear her insights on our Thinking Out Loud podcast this month in a conversation about interprofessional education and its impact on reducing medical mistakes.

Dr. Azhari holds a MSN from Saint Xavier University and a PhD in organizational leadership from the Chicago School of Professional Psychology.

February’s Nurse of the Month: Dr. Yolanda A. Coleman

Dr. Yolanda A. Coleman, Assistant Professor of Nursing at Oak Point University, is an influential leader in the healthcare industry. She is the System Assistant Chief Nursing Officer at Sinai Health System and previously served as the Senior Director of Patient Care Services at Saint Anthony Hospital, the Director of Patient Care of Walter Payton Liver Center and Transplant/Surgical Services at UI Health, and Administrative Director for Loyola Health.

Dr. Coleman uses her talents and skills to create life changing moments in people’s lives. She is passionate about caring for others and making a difference in the community, especially by helping underserved communities and providing expertise to guide healthcare legislation. While maintaining a balance as a mom, professional nurse leader, and educator, Dr. Coleman serves her community through teaching, and by mentoring young girls and women. One of her other passions is helping those affected by gun violence. Dr. Coleman supports a healthcare scholarship each year, sponsored by a foundation started by her family, for those affected by gun violence in Chicago.

She explained, “Each day, I am thankful for my family, peers, and employees who keep me motivated to continue to pursue service and excellence. Advanced education is something so worthwhile that I’ve invested my life in it.”

Dr. Coleman has several years of experience as a critical care nurse, and later became a nurse consultant for infection control at UI Health. She graduated from Marquette University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Medical Technology and a minor in Chemistry. She received her Master’s in Nursing from DePaul University, where she is on the Executive Board for the Black Alumni Association. Dr. Coleman also serves on the EZ Taylor Scholarship Foundation, the Illinois Nurse Leader Association, and the All Nations COGIC boards. In 2012, Dr. Coleman received her Doctorate in Nursing from the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she focused on breast cancer research. She also volunteered at Susan G. Komen for the Cure and has been invited as a guest speaker for several other organizations. In 2015, Dr. Coleman received a Leadership Award from the Chicago Chapter of the National Black Nurses Association and, in 2018, she received the Illinois Nurses’ Association Community Nurse Leader award. Dr. Coleman was also selected as the Vice President of UIC College of Nursing Alumni Board in January 2020. She is a certified Nurse Executive and a Fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives.

March’s Nurse of the Month: Dr. Julie Duff

Julie Duff, DNP, APRN, WHNP-BC, CNE, is an Associate Professor in the College of Nursing at Oak Point University. Dr. Duff explained that she did not “choose” nursing; rather, nursing chose her! She said:

“The desire to be a nurse was just always there. I remember as a young child going to the library with my mom every few weeks and checking out the same two books about nurses. My mother must have gotten sick of reading and re-reading these books to me! Later as a high school student, I had the opportunity one Saturday morning to follow Dr. Loretta Ford (renowned nursing leader and co-founder of the first nurse practitioner program) on her rounds around Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, NY. At the time, Dr. Ford served as founding Dean of the University of Rochester’s nursing school. She was a dynamic and impressive force who made a profoundly positive and long-lasting impact on me.”

Dr. Duff finds educating and empowering patients to live their best, healthiest lives, and developing relationships with her patients as a nurse practitioner to be the most fulfilling aspects of nursing. As a nurse educator at Oak Point and beyond, she enjoys sharing her knowledge, energy and enthusiasm for nursing with students. Dr. Duff said, “I love to teach students about how nursing offers so many fulfilling options for specialization and practice. One can never become bored in the nursing profession!”

For students pursuing a nursing career, she offers the following advice: “First, nursing school is hard and therefore it takes a lot of hard work to prepare to be a good nurse. The payoff, however, is incredibly rewarding. As nurses, we have the ability to make a meaningful and lasting impact on patients and families. Second, although students will learn a lot about different diseases and how to care for the sick in hospitals, nurses are needed in all types of settings and for many different reasons – most importantly, in my opinion, to teach people how to stay healthy and prevent disease.”

She believes anyone considering being a nurse must have intellect, empathy, and kindheartedness—in addition to critical thinking, the willingness to communicate and connect with people, and capability to show compassion. Dr. Duff also explained that these are traits that can be learned and developed with work, practice, and mentorship.

The personal accomplishment Dr. Duff is most proud of is earning her Doctor of Nursing Practice degree at age 50, all while maintaining full-time employment at Oak Point and taking care of her family. As for the future, she hopes to continue to impact students with “energy and passion for the profession into my 70’s—through teaching, speaking, and writing.”

(Pictured above is, from left to right: Julie Duff in 1989 with a new mom, the nurse manager holding newborn, and her preceptor, Jane.)

“When I was in my final practicum as a senior nursing student at Georgetown University in 1989, I was assigned to work on Labor & Delivery with a fabulous RN preceptor, Jane. I worked alongside Jane to deliver intrapartum care to women and their families. One of the highlights for me, however, was one slow night shift when I had the opportunity to start my first IV…on Jane! She offered her own vein and (luckily) I was successful on the first stick. I keep a photograph of Jane and me pinned to my workstation bulletin board to this day.”

April’s Nurse of the Month: Dr. Maria F. Martinez

Maria Martinez, DNP, RN, always wanted to become a nurse to help and serve patients in the hospital and community settings. Science, health, compassionate care, and patient advocacy intrigued her and led her to the nursing profession. She explained, “Being an RN is my calling.”

Dr. Martinez finds helping patients during the most challenging and difficult moments with their health and lives to be the most fulfilling part of nursing. She said, “Patients want nurses who are not only knowledgeable and skilled with clinical tasks, but most importantly, patients want nurses who genuinely care about them and their families.” Some of the most fulfilling moments as an RN, Dr. Martinez believes, are when patients recover from illness, when she can comfort them in the face of apprehension, when she can advocate on their behalf, or when she is thanked for her work: “Genuine, compassionate, & professional care makes a difference for all patients, and this is most fulfilling to me.”

Dr. Martinez is also a nurse educator, and is an Assistant Professor in Oak Point’s College of Nursing. Of her role at Oak Point, Dr. Martinez stated:

“What I find most fulfilling as a nurse educator is sharing my nursing experiences with students in the best educational environment, which is Oak Point University. Teaching in the classroom, lab, and clinical settings are opportunities for our students to learn, grow, and prepare for the rigors of the nursing profession. When nursing students tell me, ‘Professor I want to make a difference in helping patients,’ I tell students to claim ownership of their education, study, and work hard to succeed in the nursing program.”

Dr. Martinez encourages nursing students and those hoping to pursue a career in healthcare to claim ownership of their education, study, and work hard, not only in the nursing program and for a degree, but for their future patients. She explained, “Continue to learn from the experts and maintain humility. We are all life-long learners.”

As nurses work on the front line of the COVID-19 crisis, Dr. Martinez mentioned that she is heartbroken to see how the disease has impacted healthcare professionals on previously unimagined levels. She shared,

“I strongly support my nursing colleagues who are fighting on the front line to save lives. More than ever, the nursing profession needs our support and political advocacy – advocacy for more hazmat personal protective equipment, increased and improved technologies for COVID-19 testing with accurate and immediate results, and research for medications and treatments to save lives and prevent massive outbreaks in the months and years to come. As community members, it is our ethical obligation and responsibility to abide by the government regulations to protect ourselves, our families, and everyone. COVID-19 is highly contagious, and should be taken seriously. I believe that businesses, unions, and manufacturers that carry hazmat PPE, medical equipment and supplies should share and donate. As for community members, it is our ethical obligation and responsibility to donate PPE supplies and equipment to our local hospitals. When we donate, whether equipment, supplies, or funds, we are demonstrating our support to the nursing profession and patients. Semi-retired or retired nurses and nursing students: If you feel compelled to serve and volunteer, look into becoming a Medical Corp member. Your presence to serve will make a difference in fighting this pandemic.”

For anyone considering a career in nursing, Dr. Martinez believes the qualities of an exceptional nurse include compassion, humility, authenticity, knowledge, willingness to work hard, passion for patient advocacy, resilience, tenacity, and willingness to be a life-long learner.

One of Dr. Martinez’s proudest accomplishments is earning and completing her Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree. “I dedicate and share this degree to honor my Mother, my family, close friends, nursing colleagues, students, and patients,” she shared. One of her favorite personal memories, outside of nursing, is visiting Maui, Hawaii with her husband, Neil, in 2008. While there, Dr. Martinez went to the Haleakala volcano for a sunrise tour!

As for the future? Dr. Martinez plans to continue teaching at Oak Point and to work as a per diem legal nursing consultant for the incarcerated.

May’s Nurse of the Month: Brandon Hauer, MSN, RN

Brandon Hauer, MSN, RN, is an Instructor in Oak Point University’s College of Nursing and a registered nurse in the ICU at Thorek West Hospital on the north side of Chicago. 

Brandon says he’s always helped people in times of need, ever since he was a child. He knows the importance of offering a system of support to those in need, and claims, “Nobody embodies the term ‘support system’ more than a nurse. It was just a profession that called out to me. I like to say nursing chose me.”

He explained that anyone who enters a hospital is in need, and that nurses serve as caretakers, comforters, and communicators in treating these needs. Brandon explained, “We are the oil to the engine, and at the forefront of the patient cycle… There is nothing more rewarding.” This is a sentiment he carries into his role as a nurse educator at Oak Point. He said, “To be able to help train and mold the next generation of nurses and see them go from ‘novice’ to ‘service’ is something that I truly hold dear. You have to have a real passion for this role to succeed.”

Brandon encourages anyone who dreams of being a nurse to “stick with it.” He said, “It can be a tough journey, but also a very rewarding one. My biggest piece of advice for those who are pursing the nursing profession is that your challenges– and there will be challenges– set you up for success. Envision the type of nurse you want to be and work hard at making it happen: It will.” He also stated that one trait all nurses must have is patience– in the face of illness, crisis and care. 

In addition to this, the best nurses are those willing to make sacrifices for others, which has been made clear with the development of recent events. Brandon explained, “COVID-19 is definitely testing us… one of the good things that can come from this is showing the world truly what nurses and healthcare workers do each and every day.” He believes that current events offer an opportunity for prospective healthcare workers to evaluate whether they truly have a passion for nursing. 

One of Brandon’s proudest accomplishments is having the courage to be a nurse educator. He continued, “ I am encouraged by those I teach and work with and the level of dedication, skill and success they show every day. It has been a pivotal step in my career and life and one of the most rewarding.”

As for his future plans, Brandon says he’s “in this for the long run.” He hopes to continue furthering his career, and the careers of his students, through pursuing his doctorate degree.

“I’d be a liar if I didn’t say it [COVID-19] wasn’t one of the hardest things I’ve experienced… I have seen so many of my colleagues get sick from this and that is something I have never had to deal with before…

Nurses are the most important part of the patient cycle.

I truly believe we will get to the other side of this and there will be important lessons that will protect us in the future. Until then, Nurse On! and embrace those bruised faces from the constant masks! I want to thank all of the front-liners, from the first responders, to medical staff, to grocery workers, to delivery drivers to postal workers, and beyond. I personally want to thank my partner and close family and friends who have been my support system through this. Everyone is making a sacrifice right now. And that is why we will beat this.”

June’s Nurse of the Month: Suzan Ulrich, DrPH, MSN, MN, RN

Dr. Suzan Ulrich teaches in the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) online program in the College of Nursing at Oak Point as an Associate Professor. She always wanted to be a nurse growing up and found watching nursing and health-related shows on TV inspiring. However, Suzan shared, “On my first day on the medical surgical unit as a student nurse, I fainted flat on my face.” She knew then that working in a unit treating illness was not her calling. Still, she continued along– and did not faint again– but her future remained unclear following this setback, until she started her clinical in maternity:

I was so happy when I started my clinical in maternity because mothers and babies are not sick. I knew this was where I belonged. I also wanted to be just like my maternity instructor. So, I started my nursing career in labor and delivery and soon after, obtained a master’s degree in maternity nursing so I could teach.”

Suzan explained that the most rewarding aspect of nursing is, “The holistic perspective of nurses and the commitment to a caring and compassionate relationship where the patient comes first… This is why nurses are the most trusted profession.”

Teaching the next generation of nurses and midwives is also rewarding for her because,

“It honors the nurses such as my maternity instructor who inspired me to be a maternity nurse and educator. It honors the midwives including the one who helped me through my first clinical rotation doing gynecologic exams– when I was terrified– with such patience. These educators supported my development and inspired me to want to do the same for other aspiring nurses and midwives. It is joyous to be present and be supporting a mother giving birth. There is nothing that matches the incredible moment of birth when a new person is welcomed into a family. I am humbled and blessed to have shared births with many families.”

For students preparing to be nurses, Suzan encouraged them to “listen to your gut” because nursing is both an art and a science, nursing school is rigorous, and there is no room for taking shortcuts. She also recommended, “Learn everything you can, because you hold the lives of patients in your hands.”

The accomplishment Suzan is most proud of is having her only daughter when she was 41 years old. She has also been the director of the North Shore Birth Center, a freestanding birth center in Beverly Massachusetts, for 10 years. Recently, the building was expanded, allowing for an increase in the number of births each year. Suzan stated, “The birth center was special to me because, as a student midwife, I did my final clinical rotation there with three incredible midwives who taught me to listen to women. I also learned that normal, uncomplicated births should not be happening in the hospital, but at home or in a birth center where the mother and family are in charge and children are present– where birth is not fearful, but glorious.” 

Suzan believes all nurses should be equipped with integrity, honesty, caring, compassion, and humility as they regard the needs of the most vulnerable: “Nurses should emulate our founding mother, Florence Nightingale, who was a change agent improving the treatment of patients. She was a statistician who kept detailed statistics to document outcomes. She was a rebel who fought the establishment so patients could receive the best care. She was politically active, advocating for policy changes including sanitation in England to improve public health. She was ethical and founded the nursing profession on ethical principles. She cared, carrying her lamp on the wards at night, talking and soothing patients, and writing letters home to their families for them.”

Looking toward the future, Suzan wants to continue training more midwives, especially midwives of color, so they can provide support and care to Black mothers, who are 3 to 4 times more likely to die from childbirth than white women. “This disparity is horrific in a country that spends more on maternity care than any other county in the world. Yet the USA is one of only eight countries in the world with a rising maternal mortality rate. Midwifery care and birth centers demonstrate better outcomes for both moms and babies and particularly for minority women who also have a higher burden of premature births, infant deaths, and maternal morbidity and mortality,” Suzan explained.

In her personal time, Suzan enjoys her 20 acre vineyard located in Ripley, New York, 60 miles west of Buffalo. She shared, “We grow concord grapes and I make amazing grape jam!”

Birth and the COVID-19 Pandemic

The pandemic is far from over. The pandemic highlighted the flaws in many of our systems. One major flaw is that healthy women give birth in the sick house (hospital) rather than at home, or in a birth center. Hospitals are for the sick, and women with high-risk pregnancies need this level of care. Women having normal births do not.


Women with low-risk pregnancies actually experience harm from all the interventions used routinely in hospitals just in case,as evidenced by a 30% Cesarean section rate and rising maternal mortality. Many women are seeking home births and birth center care because of COVID-19. They do not want to give birth in the ‘sick house.’ Midwives and birth centers are responding to this need. I hope this change will be a lasting one, where women and families are at the center of care and out-of-hospital birth becomes the norm for normal physiologic birth, which will improve maternal and infant outcomes as research has demonstrated.

July’s Nurse of the Month: Melissa Murphey, DNP, APRN, NP-C

Melissa Murphey is an Associate Professor and Assistant Dean, Graduate Nursing at Oak Point. She is also a Family Nurse Practitioner with Advocate/Aurora Healthcare and an Illinois Society of Advanced Practice Nursing Board Member. 

Melissa’s interest in nursing and healthcare began at a young age. She explained, “I remember watching Rescue 911 with much interest, and my late mom was a nurse/midwife who truly enjoyed her role, and caring for patients throughout her career. She instilled in me the importance of the advanced roles that nurses could hold and was influential in teaching and opening my eyes to potential career paths in healthcare.” Both of Melissa’s parents emigrated from Ireland and played integral roles in instilling the importance of education and a strong work ethic in Melissa and her siblings. She continued, “Unfortunately, she [my mom] passed away prior to seeing me complete my studies as a nurse, but I am confident she is proud that I followed her into healthcare.” 

Melissa believes nursing is a wonderful profession because nurses can make a lasting impact on patients and their families. She is passionate about advocating for and educating patients and their families on their diagnoses and plans of care. As for higher education, Melissa shared, “I enjoy higher education because it allows me an opportunity to offer my insight and past experiences to those graduate students that will be making lasting improvements and impressions on the healthcare field for many years.”

She encourages nursing students to work hard, knowing that the impact they can have on patients, other students, and their families is its own reward. She continued, “Embrace all the opportunities and challenges that you have in nursing” because there are so many roles available to nurses and advanced practice nurses. Melissa shared a quote that inspires her practice:

“I’ve learned that people may forget what you said, people may forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” -Maya Angelou

One personal accomplishment Melissa is particularly proud of is lobbying at state and national levels to promote nursing initiatives and autonomous practice. She is also proud to be part of educating healthcare providers on advancements made in practice at Oak Point through the United Nations Association on campus– which has provided her the opportunity to speak internationally! She also values the time she spent spearheading the inaugural Doctor of Nursing Practice program at Oak Point, which recently received full accreditation. Furthermore, Melissa said “I will always be proudest of the many successes of my patients and their ‘wins’ in their healthcare journeys: be it recovery from cancer, surgery or positive changes that they have made in their lives.” On a personal level, Melissa shared that she and her husband are blessed with three grade-school-aged children, “They impress me with their curiosity, intellect and wit on a daily basis,” she said. 

As for those considering a career in nursing, Melissa recommended that  nursing students “…would benefit from a willingness to learn, ability to work well alone and with others and to think independently and in a creative fashion.”

Looking toward the future, Melissa plans to develop Oak Point’s graduate programs to educate future nurse practitioners and DNP students through adding more nurse practitioner tracks and programs of study for healthcare providers and administrators. She also hopes to continue to learn through mentorship with senior leaders and progress in her higher education career. 

Fun Facts about Melissa:

  • While working in the Operating Room as a nurse, she traveled to Africa with peers and her sister to successfully climb Mt Kilimanjaro!
  • She played NCAA Collegiate basketball while studying nursing at Lewis University.
  • Her work with Special Olympics providing physical exams to Special Olympic athletes has been a highlight of her clinical career at Oak Point University.

Dr. Murphey Educates Nurses to Face COVID-19 

“Together with Drs. Zak, Azhari, Scanlan and Tohtz, along with our nurse practitioner students, we developed ‘Nursing Readiness in the Face of COVID-19,’ a continuing educational opportunity for healthcare practitioners that reached providers in Chicago, nationally and internationally! During this challenging time, I believe there is an opportunity for all people to be extra kind and help others. I am glad that we found a small rewarding way to help others with a complimentary offering to the community. I hope that everyone finds a similar opportunity.”

August’s Nurse of the Month: La Tisa Foscett-Gonzalez, DNPc, MSN, RN, BA

La Tisa Foscett-Gonzalez, Instructor for the College of Nursing at Oak Point, chose to become a nurse because she was inspired by a nurse in Neonatal ICU caring for her daughter who was born with liver failure. La Tisa shared about the nurse who inspired her, “Her compassionate, loving spirit, gentle touch, and dedicated care of my daughter were enough to change my career goals. Initially, I wanted to become an architect but after this life-changing event, I pursued several degrees in Psychology, Nursing, Nursing Administration, and Nursing Education.” La Tisa has expertise in Leadership and Management, Medical-Surgical Nursing, Orthopedics, Oncology, Infectious Disease and Pre and Post-Surgical Nursing.

La Tisa explained that, for her, one of the most fulfilling aspects of being a nurse is the ability to positively touch a patient’s life in a way that uniquely fulfills their needs. She explained that patients let nurses know when they feel cared for: “You know this when they hold your hand firmly; when they don’t want you to leave; when they look into your eyes and hope to see you when they wake up from anesthesia; and when they say, ‘Thank you so much for all you have done for me.’ These actions and words by my patients are enough to keep me coming back day after day.”

In 2019, La Tisa received the Faculty Award for Excellence in Education. She said, “Receiving this recognition was an amazing accomplishment as a nurse educator. I love to teach new nurses how to strive, not to be a good nurse, but to be the best nurse. A patient doesn’t want just a good nurse when their life depends on it, they want the best nurse!” 

Students are familiar with La Tisa’s motto: “Good, Better, Best. Never let it rest, until your good is better, and your better is best!”

La Tisa encourages all nursing and healthcare students, “Never give up! If you want it, it is yours. Never stop educating yourself, education is power! No one can take that away from you. Strive for what you want. Always put your best foot forward! Remember, you are ‘on stage’ at all times. You never know who is watching!”

Her proudest accomplishment is completing nursing school while caring for her daughter, who was very ill. She explained that, while she was a student, people told La Tisa that she would never finish because nursing school was so difficult. She shared, “They were right. Nursing school is hard and my situation didn’t make it easy. However, they were wrong about my not making it. My family and friends were my biggest cheerleaders and my daughter was my motivation to persevere. Becoming a nurse has opened up so many doors for me in my career.”

La Tisa’s story helps her relate to those who struggle to balance work, education, and family while in school. She speaks about resilience as a key attribute to stamina in the nursing field. Additionally, her diverse career path– from bedside nursing, to management, to nursing education– has given her insights into all aspects of the civility of new and seasoned nurses. “These experiences have shaped who I am and for this, I am truly blessed and grateful,” she said. 

As far as which qualities she thinks nurses should possess, La Tisa explained, “Nursing is about compassion, empathy, cultural competency and diversity, resilience, and flexibility.” As a manager, La Tisa interviewed nurses who said they had these important attributes, but it became apparent over time that they did not actually possess them in the field. She continued, “To be a nurse, you have to be able to dig deep and find the things that sparked this joy. You must know that there will be times when you ask yourself, ‘Why did I choose this profession?’ You might even cry from time to time. But if you can remember all the qualities that sparked joy and the attributes mentioned above, you are in the right profession.”

La Tisa is currently enrolled in the Doctor of Nursing Practice program at Oak Point and expects to complete the program in August 2021. She has three dogs: Walter, Wiggles, and Weezy, and she mentioned that, despite her last names, La Tisa speaks neither French nor Spanish. She also has two amazing daughters, Arielle and Alexandria.

La Tisa’s Perspective Amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic

“During COVID-19 you have to learn to laugh a lot and be grateful for friends and family. Before COVID-19, I was always on the go. During this time, I have been able to stop and reflect on family, friends, and important things that have shaped me to be the person I am and what I can offer to others. For this, I am truly grateful.”

September Nurse of the Month: Agnes T. Melad-Juat, MSN/Ed, RN, CPAN

Agnes works as a Post Anesthesia Care Unit Registry nurse and has been an adjunct faculty member at Oak Point University since 2016. Right now, Agnes is part of the registry simulation staff at Oak Point. In the past, Agnes has also been an adjunct faculty member at Rush University College of Nursing.

When she was in high school, Agnes’ father became ill and, because no one else in her family was in healthcare, she decided to pursue nursing to help take care of him. She shared,

“When I was junior in nursing [school], my father passed away. It was the most painful memory that I have. I saw the true nature of caring for people, and from then on I wanted to be able to offer others something that goes beyond the books. Since I only had a short time caring for my father and being so young in my nursing career, I felt like I needed to do more for others. After my father passed away, I promised myself that I would always give my best to every person that I have the opportunity to take care of. Twenty years later, I still have that same burning passion to keep doing my best beyond the bedside, and now in the role of a nurse educator.”

Agnes started her nursing career while in the Philippines and graduated with her BSN in March 2000, and her associate degree in Midwifery the same month! In preparation to come to the United States, she took the CGFNS (similar to the NCLEX exam for foreign nursing graduates) and both the English written (TOEFL) and spoken English exams (TSE) to qualify for her visa screen certification.

In 2004, she was hired by a Trauma Center at Upstate New York-Albany Medical Center and took her NCLEX-RN license in New York. Five years later, Agnes moved to Chicago in 2010 and began working at Rush Oak Park Hospital where she currently works as a Recovery Room Nurse once a week.

She worked at various hospitals around the city prior to working at Oak Point and her nursing background includes working in the Operating Room, Labor and Delivery Room, and Adult Medical Surgical Units.

Agnes believes that “nurse” is more than a title. She said she finds nursing fulfilling because it presents the opportunity to improve every day:

“Nursing allows me as a person to elevate my ordinary acts of caring and compassion to a whole level of ‘Extra Ordinary’ because of the ‘Extra’ that I add to it. An extra level of love, patience and kindness gives me that better connection to others. Because of nursing, I have learned to appreciate my life every day, especially when I see others in the hospital…”

Being a Nurse Educator is fulfilling for Agnes because she gets to be part of shaping future nurses. She believes that students serve as an educator’s heart and hands to those who need care. “As a nurse educator, my students have become my greatest ‘why’ and I will continue to be here to guide them to the best of my ability, both inside and outside the classroom,” said Agnes.

She reminds nursing students that nursing is both a caring profession and a vocation which requires advocating for patients, and prioritizing the preservation of a patient’s dignity. She further explained, “We do not know what is hurting people or how much people are hurting from the inside-always give room for patience, love and understanding as much as you can.” She also encouraged students to find activities outside of nursing to pursue growth and rest, and to continue learning inside and outside of the nursing field.

Agnes is most proud of completing her MSN in 2015 with a focus in Nursing Education because she kept moving forward while taking care of her 6-months-old son, and navigating her husband’s recent lay-off from his corporate job.

Wolter’s Kluwer also recently published a blog featuring a heartfelt letter to nurses from Agnes (read the article below!). “What started as just a personal reflection to uplift the spirits of our front liners during the start of the COVID lockdown became an inspiration for those who followed my daily reflections,” she said. Agnes was also awarded the Excellence in Staff Service Award and a Daisy faculty nomination at Oak Point for 2020.

Agnes said nurses must be open-minded and willing to learn and grow. She hopes that nurses who graduate from Oak Point will impart knowledge to future students rather than only going through the motions of their day-to-day shifts. She also believes that the most important quality for a nurse to have is “the ability to love, care and understand beyond your job description because, otherwise, your burning passion to care for others will fade overnight. Regardless of if you stay at the bedside, or find a different career in nursing, always remember nothing gets resolved without proper communication.”

Agnes comes from a great family of educators and has three siblings who hold doctoral degrees; therefore, when the time is right, she would like to go back to school and finish her DNP.

Life Lessons during COVID-19


“In these challenging times, I think that one of the many things I have learned is that we all are here for a purpose– be at the bedside as a front liner, or behind the spotlight as an educator. We all have stepped up in one way or another, and not one role is above or better than the other. We have our own contributions to society, big or small.


The pandemic has taught me to become more and more appreciative of the blessings that are actually right before my eyes. For my family, the time I spend with them is the most valuable time I have and I will never trade it for the world. As for my friends: now more than ever I have valued those moments when we were able to share a hug or that moment to just have conversations over coffee. In my work, I have learned to find ways to balance my time so I do not lose my passion in what I do.


My husband and I are blessed to be able to work from home and take care of our son, and knowing that not all families have this opportunity, I feel beyond grateful. It’s the little things that make us remember who we are as people and as humans.”


Agnes was recently featured in Wolter’s Kluwer through her #RNspired article. Read her inspiring letter to all nurses here!

October Nurse of the Month: Mark Vega, MSN, RN

Mark Vega works in Oak Point University’s undergraduate nursing department as the mental health nursing course coordinator and full-time mental health nursing lecturer, as well as a clinical instructor.

Mark explained, “Like many individuals, I never knew what I wanted to do with my life. I worked in the fine dining industry for 18 years. I enjoyed the profession and excelled as a wine sommelier. However, there was always something missing. I wanted a career that would be satisfying, rewarding, and be a service to others. Friends of mine suggested that my organizational and leadership skills and empathy for others would make me a good nurse.”

As a result, Mark decided to pursue nursing and said, “…it was the best decision I made for my career.”

He believes that nursing is a profession with a variety of opportunities due to its many specialties. Over the course of his career, Mark has been a floor nurse, a charge nurse, a house supervisor, a utilization review coordinator, an infection control nurse, a staff development nurse, and a nurse educator. He shared, “It has been an educational and life-fulfilling experience to do as much as I have within the field.” Mark commented that being a nurse educator has allowed him to share his knowledge from the field while also blending his love for psychology and teaching to help shape the minds of new nurses.

Mark also mentioned that being a nurse aligns with his personal values and pursuit of integrity. Furthermore, he believes his work as a nurse educator helps him to have a greater impact on mental health: “By inspiring future nurses, I can shape the nursing profession, improve client care, and grow as an individual,” said Mark.

He encouraged nursing students, “There may be times where you wonder if nursing is the right career for you or whether or not you can do it. However, nursing opens so many doors and creates opportunities you did not think were possible. The reward is worth the work. Hang in there, and you will not be disappointed.”

The accomplishment Mark is proudest of is earning his MSN degree with a focus on nursing education because he knew his skills extended beyond being a nurse supervisor and, if he had not pursued the opportunity, he would have missed out on the renewed sense of fulfillment teaching brings.

Mark believes nursing students possess a level of patience, selflessness, and empathy for others as well as a passion for service. However, he also mentioned that there are skills which students can develop through practice including time management, communication, professionalism, the ability to work in teams, attention to detail, and knowing how to advocate for clients.

In the future, Mark hopes to earn his Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree as ongoing education is necessary for nurses to keep up with a consistently changing field to provide the best practices for clients and to address the needs of communities. After receiving his DNP, Mark plans to pursue more education by getting his certified nurse educator certification, returning to school to become a mental health nurse practitioner, and getting board certified.

Mental Health and COVID-19

“There is no doubt that COVID-19 has impacted everyone in today’s society in some way. Nurses, doctors, healthcare workers, and all frontline and essential workers have unsurpassed bravery levels, courageousness, and selflessness. From the point of view of a nurse, COVID-19 has reinforced the importance of public health organizations and abiding by public health guidelines. We are currently living in a world where the cause and effect that individuals have on each other when not following public health directives is very evident.


I never imagined a pandemic scenario like the one that we are in now. As a nurse, I feel it is important that everyone receives accurate and reliable information regarding COVID-19. Trust your local public health officials. I also want to stress that mental health promotion efforts are strongly needed at this time. Healthcare workers are working under heightened levels of stress, essential workers are putting themselves at risk every day, and job loss and healthcare access are putting millions of individuals at risk for experiencing depression and anxiety.


Being a nurse educator who gets to work from home now, I have not been as affected as others by COVID-19. The effect the pandemic has had on me is much smaller. Like many of our students, I have also had to adapt to a broader virtual world. Interactions with my colleagues are now in the form of ZOOM meetings, and I have had to redesign my instruction to online learning.


I also had to shape my daily routine to match my pre-pandemic routine as much as possible. Staying indoors can lock individuals into at-home distractions, not getting enough exercise, and not getting ready for the day like we would if we were leaving the house. I make sure I wake up at the same time every day, shower, turn the television off after the morning news, take breaks throughout the day, and take quick walks or exercise breaks when I can. We are creatures of habit, so staying in a consistent routine is vital to our mental health and staying on task with work and schoolwork.”

A Word from Mark on Mental Illness

“I want to make a statement about the stigma of mental illness. It is a topic that I feel all health care workers, regardless of their specialty, should be educated about. The stigma of mental illness perpetuated in our society has shaped mental illness perception in the wrong direction. It is detrimental to those with mental illness because it can cause individuals to avoid seeking treatment. Knowledge of mental illness, its effects on those with it, and awareness of unconscious and conscious biases and stereotypes of mental illness are essential to decreasing stigma. Thankfully, there has been a lot of recent initiative by organizations to target mental health stigma. As healthcare workers, we need to recognize how mental illness should be viewed and how we can educate others about it to decrease the stigma and increase the acceptance of it as a prevalent disease that has become a global epidemic.”

May 12, 2020: Happy 200th Birthday, Florence Nightingale!

Florence Nightingale was born in Florence, Italy on May 12th, 1820 to an affluent British family. Even as a child, she was active in philanthropy as a child and believed nursing to be her “divine purpose.” Nightingale’s influence on the field of nursing continues long after her death, and much of her legacy remains relevant in healthcare today.

Important updates regarding the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19).