Nurses are the backbone of healthcare, making them incredibly important to the well-being and recovery of patients. With their compassion, expertise and tireless dedication, nurses provide essential care and support to individuals in need. They are on the front lines, advocating for patients, administering medications, monitoring vital signs and ensuring the comfort and safety of those under their care. 

Nurses possess a deep understanding of medical conditions and treatments, enabling them to assess, diagnose and respond promptly to changes in patients' conditions. Their expertise extends beyond medical knowledge as they also offer emotional support and comfort to patients and their families during challenging times. 

Whether in hospitals, clinics or community settings, nurses bridge the gap between patients and medical providers and contribute significantly to the overall quality of healthcare delivery. Their tireless efforts and unwavering commitment make them indispensable in promoting health, preventing illnesses and facilitating the healing process for countless individuals.

For this Nurse’s Appreciation Month, we are highlighting Dr. Mimi Guiracocha, DNP, RN and Manager of Health Promotions at the American Lung Association who has dedicated her life to public health. 

A passion for public health

Mimi knew she wanted to be a nurse when she was a senior in high school. “I imagined a future of helping others,” she says, “especially those from immigrant communities and communities of color like mine.” 

She knew she wanted to dedicate her life to public health after doing community health work with immigrant families in the Chicagoland area. “I had the privilege of being welcomed into their homes, being fed each time, teaching their kids and working alongside the community with the goal of wholistic health that focused on physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and communal health,” she says. During this time, Mimi noticed the disparities these families were facing, such as lack of access to transportation, and knew she wanted to continue to work with communities that have been disinvested in.

After getting her nursing degree, Mimi started her career in a NICU in Chicago where she cared for premature and sick babies. “A lot of them had respiratory illnesses, some of whom would leave our unit with tracheostomies,” she says. It was in her role at the NICU that Mimi felt further called to public health work, which she believes is integral to nursing. 

“We saw daily the impact that health disparities had on the premature births of so many babies of color, which to me highlighted the need for continued focus on improving the health of all communities,” she says. 

With this background, and her passions, Mimi chose to go to graduate school and received her doctorate in public health nursing, which led her to her role today with the American Lung Association. “In this role, I get to both train healthcare providers on providing updated, quality asthma care to patients, and work with the community that I love.” says Mimi. “In my role as a public health nurse with the Lung Association, I also have the honor of advocating for environmental justice and healthy air that will help impacted communities live healthier lives in my work with healthcare systems and community members.”

The realities of being a nurse

Nursing is, unfortunately, a career that is often underappreciated and underpaid. “Nurses are not always recognized or compensated for all the amazing work we do,” Mimi says. “I was on the PPE team at my hospital during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and went around all the units in the hospital. Each time and in every single unit, nurses were gearing up head to toe, risking their lives to save the lives of people's loved ones.” Despite not always getting the recognition they deserve; Mimi says that every year nurses are told that they are the most trusted profession. “This means we should be listened to when making decisions that directly impact us and the patients and communities we serve.”

Mimi wishes that the public would remember that nurses “are human, too.” “We also have families, friends, lives, and yet give everything we have when we’re caring for patients and communities,” she says. She wants people to know that although nurses have been trained well to advocate and think critically, nurses are “not limitless, may not have all the answers, and deserve respect, kindness,” and to be given seats at “all the tables, boards and levels of leadership.”

Mimi says “being entrusted with caring for people and communities in some of their most vulnerable moments and advocating for them to have a voice in important decisions that directly impact them” makes nursing uniquely special. “I have had the pleasure of advocating for Spanish-speaking parents who just wanted to know what was happening to their baby but didn’t speak English, of fighting alongside communities impacted by pollution by giving testimony about the importance of strengthening the EPA’s pollution standards and of holding a tiny baby’s hands moments before they passed away without any family around.” 

Inspiring the future of nursing

Nursing can be a daunting field to get into and new nurses deserve support. To all the new nurses entering the field, Mimi says “You are not alone. You do not have to carry it all by yourself. You have a tribe of people around you. Find your people.” She also emphasizes that nurses need to remember to take time for themselves to rest and recharge. “When our job is to empathize, care, serve, advocate, adapt, lead, make split-second, sometimes life-or-death decisions, it can drain us. Take time for yourself when you can and trust your instincts!”

In the end, Mimi would also like nurses to remember that the work they do often falls within the realm is public health work. “Every time a bedside nurse advocates for their patient who does not speak English, every time a school nurse teaches a student how to manage their chronic condition, every time a nurse speaks up about an issue affecting their community and demands a seat at the table, they are doing the work of public health.”

Happy Nurses month to all the nurses out there doing the essential job of caring for those who are sick and injured. Thank you for all that you do!

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