Photo Courtesy of Nursing Today
NEW YORK – There are people driven to succeed in life through hard work and determination. But this inspiring educator and community leader say these are not enough. They must also have a vision, a heart, and a passion for making a difference. A nursing profession, she says, is a bridge to serve humanity, which ultimately leads to making a difference in this world. For her, this is more profound and noble, more significant perhaps than life itself.
“That may sound cliché,” said Myrna Young, a nurse since 1974, but that hope was only one reason why she took up nursing. Secondly, being the eldest in the family, her mother convinced her to be an example to her 11 siblings by having a college education. Whether this was her mother’s way to motivate a first-born child or not, Myrna took it as both a motivation and a challenge – which she recalls her mother had said out of love and good intention.
And her third reason is that all her childhood friends at her hometown at Cauayan, Isabela, wanted to be a nurse. In the end, however, she was the only one who succeeded.
For 46 years, Myrna has worked as a nurse in several roles. First, she was an operating room nurse at the University of Santo Tomas while pursuing her Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) at the Far Eastern University. As soon as she completed her BSN in 1976, she was a Clinical Instructor at the Marian School of Nursing, where she earlier received her Diploma in Nursing.
In the mid-’60s, the lure to come to America was so compelling for many Filipinos with the passage of the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act, which opened the doors to skilled workers from around the world. At that time, hospitals had a massive demand for nurses and they were recruiting at a frenetic pace, which brought many nurses to the U.S.
The Early Years
Myrna was one of those nurses recruited and arrived in New Jersey in the summer of 1977. She worked at the Irvington General Hospital (IGH) in New Jersey as a Medical-Surgical nurse and after 6 months, she transferred to the Operating Room. After three years, in 1980, she became the youngest director in the hospital overseeing the operating/recovery room and the first Filipina nurse to have achieved that position in the organization through her dedication and sheer determination.
Compared to now, Myrna said it was less difficult then but rigid for a nurse to come to America. “In my recollection, during my time, the requirements from the hospitals were pretty stiff which included years of clinical experience, a nursing degree and board certification, and a high score in TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language).”
Being young and single in America, it was all work as she tried to save money not only for herself but to send a portion of it back home as well. She roomed at an apartment, a walking distance to the hospital, with a roommate who was also a nurse. “I cannot cook and within two months after I arrived, I lost 10 pounds,” she recounted. “What my roommate and I would do at nighttime when our landlord slept was to go to the kitchen and eat the left-over food.”
Starting as a new nurse in a foreign land had both challenges and triumphs. One thing she recalled is how Filipino nurses like her endured their life earning a living for 12- to 16-hours a day besides racial and gender discrimination in the workplace. Money was not the object but physically and mentally, sometimes it drained out their strength and spirit to move on. Fortunately, her husband, Rene, her boyfriend back in the Philippines, came after she arrived. They got married years later and Myrna found life much more fulfilling and encouraged her to be more enthusiastic to persevere in her promising career.
Thus, in the ensuing years, she also earned her Master of Science in Nursing Administration from Seton Hall University in 1988.
Myrna and Rene, North Brunswick, New Jersey residents, have two grown-up children – Chris and Michael – who are in their late and mid 30’s. Chris is in engineering and Michael is in information technology (IT) and marketing. Before COVID-19, they would visit Chris’ family and play with their two grandchildren but has since been interrupted.
For over 30 years with the Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (RWJUH) Barnabas Health System after working with IGH, she has moved up the corporate ladder. She is the Nursing Education Specialist and Program Director of its RN Residence and Path to Professional Nursing Programs for its affiliated hospitals.
Earlier in her employment with them, she was sent to the Philippines as the hospital’s representative to recruit nurses. Recently, Myrna played a major role in helping the St. Luke’s Medical Center (SLMC) Philippines become the first and only hospital to receive the Pathway to Excellence Designation in 2019 through the Magnet Recognition Program for health care organizations. The recognition is “a steadfast proof of a hard-earned commitment to excellence in health care, with content nurses at its heart.”
In her entire career, Myrna said nothing came close to COVID-19. “I can’t compare it with any other healthcare calamities that I have experienced. It is the worse and the most challenging experience and probably the scariest for any nurse who provides direct care to patients.”
Although she did not directly care for COVID-19 patients, she did the fit testing of N95 masks to nurses, doctors, and other health care workers, provided orientation and training to the new hires, and provided support to clinical care technician orientation. “We have fit tested over 6,000 employees including attending MDs in less than 2 months,” Myrna said.
“The uncertainties, the lack of information about this virus, the treatments, and the supplies and equipment needed to take care of this deadly virus are just overwhelming and stressful to any frontline healthcare workers. The deadly virus exposed front-liners are directly exposed to this deadly virus,” Myrna added.
She also said that so many front-liners were infected and several people were not fortunate to overcome it. “Not only did some of us lose their lives but their family members got ill or died from it,” Myrna said. As a precaution for herself, at the pandemic’s peak, she brought with her spare clothing for her to use before going home.
She told the Philippine Daily Mirror that a hospital has a high-risk environment. But protecting her family, co-workers, and herself from getting exposed to coronavirus is always a concern for her. “COVID-19 has been a life-changer to all of us,” she said.
Passion For Serving Others
Myrna, with her passion for making a difference, has also been involved in several community organizations. She has been a member of the Philippine Nurses Association of New Jersey (PNANJ), Philippine Nurses Association of America (PNAA), Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society, Association for Operating Room Nurses, and New Jersey State Nurse Association. She served as Subchapter President of PNANJ from 2012-2014.
As a member of the PNANJ, she coordinated several outreach activities to benefit food pantries in New Jersey, gift-giving to indigent children in New Brunswick, Tackle Sickle blood donation, and clothing and food drive for Hurricane Sandy victims.
As President of PNANJ, she led multiple fundraising initiatives on the international level for the Philippine Medical Mission and Nandadeep Hospital for the Blind in India and the Typhoon Haiyan. When Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines, Myrna and the Middlesex County PNANJ Chapter organized a hospital-wide fund drive and donation campaign. Her team collected 50 large boxes of clothing, food, and emergency medical supplies and raised more than $12,000 to benefit natural disaster victims..
She has authored a chapter, Big Dreams Broken Glass, in a leadership book Disrupt 3.0 Filipina Women Rising. The book is about the experiences of several Filipina women leaders who wrote about their culture and the challenges they faced on their career paths, including racial and gender discrimination — the book launched in September 2018.
Also, Myrna has given several presentations at regional, national, and international professional nursing conferences.
At present, she is the secretary of the Philippine Independence Day Committee, Inc., a non-profit organization that plans and directs the annual commemoration of Philippine Independence in New York City. She is also a member of the Jose P. Rizal International Foundation, Inc., a charitable organization based in New Jersey that propagates the teachings and values of Dr. Jose P. Rizal, the Philippines’ national hero.
“If you build it, they will come” is a famous line from the film Field of Dreams. If you put thought and energy into your passion you increase the likelihood of success. Myrna acted and dreamt about being a nurse, a mother, a career woman, a leader in her community, and at her workplace with no expectation of a reward or recognition. With her mother’s prodding, she took the first step forward and had faith in God and herself to succeed. Now the fruits of her passion are ripe.
Dr. Lori Colineri, Senior Vice President and Chief Nurse Officer for the RWJBG system Southern Region, nominated Myrna to receive the prestigious first international nurse excellence award in May 2018 from the Nurses with Global Impact. She was one of the 14 recipients from all over the world to receive the award at the United Nations in New York.
“I was so honored and humbled to be nominated by Dr. Colineri out of over 10,000 registered nurses at RWJ Barnabas Health System,” Myrna said. But the recognition of her involvement in both professional and community service did not end there. In the same year, she was also a recipient of the Filipina Women’s Network 100 Most Influential Filipina in the world in August 2018 together with 43 others from different countries.
“As a female and a Filipina, I have often felt that I needed to work harder than most who were not like me, but I also embrace that I have much to be grateful for,” she wrote in the book. “My journey has not always been entirely uphill and I am convinced that being grateful for all the experiences has contributed to my success. Our words, our thoughts, and our actions should always come from a place of being grateful as this is an incredibly infectious emotion.”
Such is a woman of passion for making a difference – a nurse who has a calling in service to humanity.
With this year’s World Health Organization’s (WHO) designation of 2020 as the International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife in honor of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Florence Nightingale, the Philippine Daily Mirror has launched “Nurses: Their Calling in Service to Humanity Project.” Our goal is to know them and make known their work. We interviewed several nurses for the work they continue to do. They come from different regions in the Philippines and from the metropolitan New York tri-state area.