Our Nurse of the Week is Saman Perera, a Tennessee-native nurse fighting healthcare inequality through Doctors Without Borders. Born in Sri Lanka and raised in Hendersonville, TN, Perera decided to join Doctors Without Borders after graduating from nursing school and is now setting an example for his community on how to get involved in global humanitarian efforts.
After attending the University of Illinois for his bachelor’s degree in nursing and Vanderbilt University for his master’s degree, Perera embarked on his first mission to Haiti following the 2010 earthquake to help with the cholera outbreak there. His missions have also taken him to work in primary care in the Democratic Republic of Congo and to the frontlines of Chad treating war-wounded victims.
However, Perera was most recently stationed on a two-month medical mission in Bentiu, South Sudan, working in a refugee camp hospital made up of 130,000 residents. The camp was created as a result of a civil war breakout in the area. Although his missions often take him to volatile, war-torn environments lacking housing and running water, Perera says the toughest aspect of his job is managing the emotions involved. Perera has found that the best way to cope with the emotions of treating victims of war is to focus on task-oriented jobs like training local nurses.
For Perera, his work with Doctors Without Borders goes beyond just nursing and medicine. He tells UTDailyBeacon.com, “I realized that medicine, for me, is a Band-Aid to something a lot bigger; we’re talking wars, huge injustices, malnutrition in countries like Congo. For me, my presence there and the presence of Doctors Without Borders is more than medicine, it’s a way of saying injustice is not okay.”
Perera recently moved to Knoxville, TN after returning from his two-month mission in South Sudan. He plans to work as a hospital nurse practitioner while he prepares for another Doctors Without Borders mission trip. In his spare time, Perera encourages other current and future healthcare workers to get involved in global aid and serve those in need.
To learn more about Perera’s time as a medical mission nurse for Doctors Without Borders, visit here.
Our Nurse of the Week is Michael Gnidovec, born and raised near Peru, Illinois, who began his nursing journey at Illinois Valley Community College. After finishing his two-year associate’s degree in nursing, Gnidovec joined the nursing workforce before going on to pursue his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in nursing, continuing to reach higher after achieving each new goal.
While working two jobs as a nurse at a nearby hospital and part-time school nurse, Gnidovec decided he wanted to do more with his nursing career and began exploring RN to BSN programs. Illinois State University’s Mennonite College of Nursing stood out to him because you can complete the online RN to BSN program in as little as one year.
Gnidovec tells News.IllinoisState.edu, “I was working two jobs, actually. I worked full-time at St. Margaret’s Hospital in Spring Valley as a medical-surgical and pediatric nurse, and I also worked part-time as a school nurse for Peru Public Schools. I was lucky — in that area of Illinois, because it is small, most employers don’t require bachelor’s degrees.”
Thanks to help and support from his professors, Gnidovec was able to work two jobs while going to school full time. Gnidovec found that the things he was learning applied directly to the work he was doing, allowing him to put his clinical work as a nurse into context. The public health course work was particularly impactful for Gnidovec as a lot of associate’s degree programs lack exposure in that area.
After completing his BSN, Gnidovec went on to earn his master’s degree in nursing with a clinical nurse leader focus from Rush University. He also recently started St. Francis Medical Center College of Nursing’s post-master’s certificate in adult gerontology clinical nurse specialist. However, he’s not stopping there. Gnidovec is now exploring Doctor of Nursing Practice programs and thinking about returning to Mennonite College of Nursing for their online DNP program.
Thankful for everything his nursing education has given him, Gnidovec tells News.IllinoisState.edu, “Having a bachelor’s degree made me marketable. The skills I learned in the RN to BSN program at Illinois State allow me to be an effective leader. I can navigate policy changes and understand the reasons behind them. I can see things from the perspective of both upper management and my peers. I appreciate evidence-based practice.”
With his master’s degree under his belt, Gnidovec currently works at Mayo Clinic as a charge nurse. To learn more about Gnidovec’s path to nursing, visit here.
Our Nurse of the Week is Joan Riggs, RN, who was recently awarded a Health Care Achievement Award for her advocacy and work in hospital-based quality and safety initiatives for elder patients. The award was granted by the Long Island Business News (LIBN) whose Healthcare Achievement Awards honor individuals and organizations in the healthcare industry for outstanding leadership, service, and innovation.
Riggs currently works as a Nurse Manager at South Nassau Communities Hospital in Long Island, NY, which has been designated as a NICHE (Nurses Improving Care for Health System Elders) hospital as a direct result of Riggs’ work on caretaker education and healthcare center around elder patients. Following a NICHE conference in 2015, Riggs developed and spearheaded a hospital-wide initiative to advance care for elder patients at South Nassau. Since the program began, over 20 registered nurses have completed geriatric certification or become geriatric resource nurses.
NICHE is an international program based out of the NYU College of Nursing that provides principles and tools to stimulate a change in the culture of healthcare facilities to achieve patient-centered care for elder patients. The NICHE network includes over 680 hospitals and healthcare organizations in the US, Canada, Bermuda, and Singapore.
Riggs joined South Nassau in 2010 as the Nurse Manager of the Medical Surgical Telemetry Unit. With 31 professional years in healthcare, Riggs has spent her career working in surgical intensive care and trauma units. Now she’s using her expertise to improve elder care for hospital patients at South Nassau.
To learn more about Joan Riggs and her Healthcare Achievement Award for her efforts to improve elder care, visit here.
Our Nurse of the Week is Navy Lt. Cmdr. Erika Schilling, a military nurse midwife who used her medical training to help save a man’s life during a Washington State Ferry trip. Schilling had spent the day at a museum with her two sons and was on the return trip home when she overheard another passenger frantically telling someone that a passenger needed immediate medical attention. She jumped to attention, performing lifesaving CPR on a complete stranger.
“I just happened to be there and heard that help was needed. I heard her on the phone saying, ‘This is an emergency.’ My ears went up.”
When Schilling was brought to the ill passenger, he was slumped over and didn’t appear to be breathing. Schilling immediately moved him onto the floor and began performing CPR while another passenger retrieved an Automated External Defibrillator (AED). She shared CPR duties with another passenger trained in basic life support skills for 14 minutes until the ferry docked and emergency medical responders took over, transporting the man to a nearby medical center.
Schilling is a military nurse midwife at Naval Hospital Bremerton in Washington state. She credits her 21 years of Navy and Nurse Corps training for allowing her to save a stranger’s life on a normal ferry ride while off duty. Schilling tells the Department of Defense, “I just happened to be there and heard that help was needed. I heard her on the phone saying, ‘This is an emergency.’ My ears went up.”
Once the man was safely in the hands of emergency medical responders, Schilling found out that the man and his wife were visiting the area. Schilling stayed with his wife and drove her from the ferry to the hospital. The man is reported to be safely recovering at home following the incident.
Schilling has since been awarded the Life Ring Award from Washington State Ferry, a certificate usually reserved for employees who respond to life-and-death emergencies or perform rescues. To learn more about Schilling’s lifesaving efforts, visit here.
In honor of CRNA Week, our Nurses of the Week are two Columbia University nursing students who traveled to Ecuador on a surgical mission. Julian Piazzola and William Scott, both members of the Columbia Nursing Class of 2018, jumped at the opportunity to assist a surgical mission in Ecuador. As Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) students, it was the perfect opportunity to participate in a clinical rotation while also getting to travel abroad.
The students were accompanied by Michael Greco, DNP, director of Columbia’s Nurse Anesthesia Program, on the week-long health mission with Blanca’s House to bring quality medical care to countries and communities in Latin America. Their clinical experience in Ecuador included setting up an operating room to provide anesthesia for total knee replacements and head and neck cases for local citizens.
Although the clinical hours they completed in Ecuador did not count toward their hour requirements for official CRNA licensing, Piazzola and Scott say their medical mission was an invaluable opportunity to volunteer their services to patients in need. Piazzola tells Nursing.Columbia.edu:
“Providing care in a remote location was extremely rewarding. I felt the impact we made on this community, and I left with such a positive feeling about the patient experience, which is integral to nursing care.”
To read Columbia Nursing’s full interview with Piazzola and Scott about their experiences volunteering on a surgical mission to Ecuador, visit here.
Our Nurse of the Week is Donna Manning, a graduate of the University of Massachusetts Lowell (UML), who is now giving back to her university and profession after finding her calling. After coming close to quitting nursing school in her final year, Manning pushed through and finished her degree, and pursued a career in oncology nursing that she came to love. Now, Manning’s goal is to give exceptional care without exception and to give back to the university that helped her find her passion.
When Manning could no longer afford tuition for nursing school going into her senior year, she decided that she had no option but to drop out and come back in a year. She arrived at the registrar’s office to withdraw, but the woman at the front desk gave her advice that changed the course of Manning’s life. The women told her: “They never come back. Don’t withdraw. Figure out a way.”
And that’s what Manning did. She asked her parents for help getting a car so that she could work and pay tuition, and she completed her nursing degree a year later. Now in a position to change the lives of others, Manning makes an effort to pay it forward in any way she can. She tells UML.edu, “My education at UMass Lowell instilled the important of ongoing education and lifelong learning. We are both inspired to give to keep public education affordable and give students the tools they need to thrive.”
Manning considered pursuing nursing management early in her career and earned an MBA at UMass Lowell in preparation but her hospital later merged with Boston City Hospital to become Boston Medical Center and she decided to stay with her oncology patients. Her husband also earned a business degree from UML and the couple have since funded endowed scholarships for students majoring in nursing and business, a global health initiative for nursing students, nursing simulation labs, teaching excellence awards, and donations to multiple capital projects.
Grateful for an education that allowed her to pursue her passion to help others, Manning plans to continue giving back to the university where her career started while giving back to her patients on a day-to-day basis. To learn more about Donna Manning and her career as an oncology nurse, visit here.