Growing up in a working-class family in Houston, Rosie Perez remembers the days in which her family would pack in the car and head to the public health clinic for their medical needs. Once there, they would get in long lines of people like them, people who might have not had medical insurance or any other way to have their medical needs met.
But then, out of the corner of her eye, she would see the nurses.
“The nurses were like angels to me,” Perez recalls. “They seemed so elegant and compassionate, and I was in awe of how willing they were to help others.”
For Perez, it was a crucial moment that cemented her hopes of devoting her life to the nursing profession. Today, as senior vice president of mission integration at Providence St. Joseph Health, Perez’s passion for helping others continues to grow by leaps and bounds with each passing day. “No matter what is happening in the world today, people still need to be cared for, especially those who are poor and vulnerable,” Perez says. “Making the decision to become a nurse was my best decision ever.”
Her nursing career took off when she began work as a flight nurse. “Rushing to a scene to help people suffering a trauma and helping people in traumatic situations was something I was drawn to,” she says.
Yet, a helicopter crash at a neighboring hospital led Perez to ultimately keep her feet on the ground, and she instead shifted her focus toward the intensive care unit. “The adrenaline of a code blue is something that cannot be explained,” Perez says. “Not only did I enjoy working as part of a team to save a life, but I also felt compassion for the family that was in the waiting room, anxious for news. I would be the one sitting there holding their hands.”
In that moment, Perez began to consider a career that would allow her to more fully provide spiritual comfort. She would go on to do just that, working as a community health nurse and routinely catering to underserved communities with not only healthcare but information to help people make better health decisions for themselves.
Eventually, she would take on her current role as a mission leader at Providence St. Joseph Health. “It’s not only about understanding the complexities of healthcare as an industry, but the unique theological, moral, and spiritual expectations placed on a Catholic health system and what those look like in day-to-day operations,” says Perez, who is one of 119,000 compassionate caregivers who serve patients and communities in seven states. “I love being able to be a light of hope in the community.”
Of course, as the healthcare landscape grows more complex, Perez says she has faced her challenges, both personally and professionally. “I do struggle,” she admits. “We have a lot of challenges in healthcare, and I often get concerned whether we have enough capacity to continue to react and respond to the needs of our community, especially because our mission statement calls us to be steadfast in serving the poor and the vulnerable.”
She also often wonders how healthcare will evolve in the future based on the changing needs of patients. “We all need to think differently about how we do the work going forward,” she says. “We need to think more about care within the home and how we will provide mission- and spiritual-based services in different settings outside the hospital. That piece of care outside the hospital walls will become crucial in the years to come.”
As the healthcare landscape changes, she would like to encourage more people from the Hispanic community to work in the healthcare industry. “I will go to healthcare conferences and look around the room, and there might be a handful of Hispanics,” she says. “We gravitate to each other. I hope that, in the coming years, more Hispanics find a way into this field. We really need to allow young talent to shine and have representation from the communities we serve.”
While the future often brings a share of uncertainty, Perez says she finds comfort in her faith. “I have always grounded myself in my faith because it provides me hope during life’s struggles and allows me to speak with a courageous voice in challenging times,” she explains. “I am a Catholic at my core, so I often step back and think from that perspective, one of compassion.”
She takes inspiration from her faith and her drive to serve others.
“I see my work as a calling,” she says. “Prayer is so helpful to me, and it keeps me grounded in my calling, so that’s how I start and end my day. I’m here to serve others and help others. That is what is in my soul.”