While my siblings and I grew up poor, we certainly had more than our parents did, so giving back to people who are less fortunate has always been on my mind. When I was 10 years old, my fifth-grade teacher gave us a writing assignment: Things in the World That Concern Me Most. I wrote: "There are plenty of things I'm worried about in this world. One of them is war, because of the equipment they have and the amount of people that will die. I'm also worried about those who are homeless and less fortunate."
But 10-year-old me didn’t yet know what I could do to make a difference in the world. For a while I wanted to be a teacher, but in college I decided a career in health care was the best way for me to give back to my community. Ultimately, I chose nursing, which turned out to be the perfect career for me. I’m only 31 now and already I feel like I’ve had opportunities to achieve so many things.
I spent the first seven years of my career in the emergency department (ED) of a Manhattan hospital. With lots of action and not much routine, it was an ideal place for me to work. The ED really prepares you for anything, with so many challenging scenarios. In the ED, I worked as a clinical bedside nurse, then moved into leadership as a nurse coordinator, and later as the ED’s patient care director. After years of such a busy schedule, I decided it was time to take a step back and figure out where I wanted to go next as a nurse. Where could I best serve?
A stroke of luck: I happened to be emailing with a colleague about a research project when he mentioned that he was serving as the medical director of a small nonprofit organization called NYC Medics. NYC Medics is dedicated to rapidly deploying medical teams to remote areas of disaster zones where there are humanitarian emergencies in order to provide high-level care to those who otherwise would not have access to it. It’s a true front-line organization.
In early 2017, the Iraqi government and allied forces, including the United States, were working to drive ISIS out of Mosul, the last city in Iraq under control of that terrorist group. NYC Medics had set up “trauma stabilization points”—emergency care facilities that followed the front lines of the battle and cared for the injured, which included civilians, soldiers, and even terrorists. Much like my job in the ED, I would be tasked with managing the care of everyone, no matter what they had done before they came through our doors. I accepted the position of assistant coordinator for NYC Medics’ trauma and referral system in Mosul/Erbil, helping to manage the complex crisis.
I was also responsible for hiring local staff. There was no human resources department—no system in place to assist us the way that there is back home. I had to use my own judgment during interviews to determine whether the person sitting in front of me was genuinely looking for a job, or was an ISIS loyalist trying to infiltrate the system. Nothing I had done in my career had truly prepared me to think in this way. But in the end, I found it richly rewarding to be able to provide job opportunities to people who otherwise couldn’t find work. Many had professional degrees in things like engineering and teaching, but because of the economy and conflict in Iraq, could not practice their trades.