Published May 6, 2016
Jennifer Guay has delivered more than 500 babies.
For a little more than 10 years, Guay, a Lockport native and one of the few dozen midwives in Western New York, has guided mothers through arguably one of the most significant moments of their lives.
And although she didn’t develop a love for labor and delivery until college, Guay’s desire to become a nurse began at age 6.
In the hospital for minor surgery, Guay never forgot the care she received from the facility’s nursing staff.
“I was amazed at how competent and compassionate the nurse was to me during that short hospital stay. She went the extra mile and changed my life,” says Guay, clinical associate professor in the UB School of Nursing and midwife at Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital.
“Nurses make a difference every day in patients’ lives. This passion for nursing still drives my role as a nurse-midwife and faculty at UB.”
To honor nurses like Guay and others around the nation, the School of Nursing will join the country in celebrating National Nurses Week.
The annual celebration is held between National Nurses Day, May 6, and May 12, the birthday of Florence Nightingale, who is widely considered to be the founder of modern nursing.
The School of Nursing will hold its Annual May Celebration at 5:30 p.m. May 19 at The Buffalo History Museum. The event will honor nursing alumni and faculty achievements. For more information, visit the School of Nursing website.
“As the largest of the health care professions, nurses are called upon to take on leadership roles as clinicians, advocates, educators, scientists and policymakers,” says Marsha Lewis, dean of the School of Nursing.
“National Nurses Week is an opportunity to recognize the many contributions of all nurses and the impact they make toward improving the health of individuals, families, communities and populations.”
To capture the influences that led UB faculty and students to pursue nursing, Guay and other members of the campus community shared their stories.
It was not uncommon for patients to pay Alexander Salinas’ mother in chickens or other livestock.
A physician, Salinas’ mother was the only health care provider in their community in the Philippines. She sometimes would forego payment, valuing the health of her patients above money.
The respect for his mother’s work led Salinas to pursue a career in health care. After the family moved to New York, Salinas enrolled in the UB Pharmaceutical Sciences program. During the summers, he returned home and worked as a nursing aide in a care home.
Over the weeks, he developed a relationship with a patient with Alzheimer’s disease who dealt with near complete memory loss. When Salinas returned to school, he thought the woman would forget him as well.
But when he returned the following summer, the patient greeted him with a hug and remembered his name.
“It was a heartwarming moment for me. I switched my major to nursing and never looked back,” says Salinas, now a junior and Ronald E. McNair Scholar.
“In nursing, you know someone holistically. It involves knowing the person and not just the disease. It’s humbling to serve people from the most vulnerable to those at optimal health.”
Also a student in the UB Advanced Honors Program, Salinas plans to pursue a doctoral degree in nursing.
Molli Oldenburg-Warunek wanted nothing more as a girl than to become a veterinarian. With a small lab coat and a stethoscope, she played doctor on all of her pets.
But after learning that a vet’s role also involved putting sick animals to sleep, she decided caring for humans was a better alternative.
“It’s important to love what you do, and helping others was what I wanted to do,” says Oldenburg-Warunek, clinical assistant professor of nursing.
In high school, Oldenburg-Warunek met Julie Kwoka, who was equally passionate about caring for others. The two met in a vocational class in nursing while earning their LPN licenses. After graduation, they continued on to earn their associate’s degrees together at Niagara Community College and then master’s degrees from UB to become nurse practitioners.
After seven years of working in primary care in Orleans County, Oldenburg-Warunek joined Kwoka on the Leukemia Service in the Department of Medicine at Roswell Park Cancer Institute. In 2014, after returning to UB to earn a doctor of nursing practice degree from UB, Oldenburg-Warunek joined the School of Nursing faculty.
“Having Julie, a caring friend who was just as compassionate about caring for others and someone I could lean on during the toughest days of nursing school, was vital to my success,” says Oldenburg-Warunek.
The nursing duo remains best friends to this day. In fact, Oldenburg-Warunek married in January and Kwoka was her matron of honor.
Like Salinas’ mother, Carleara Ferreira Da Rosa Silva’s great grandmother, a lay midwife, was also the only health care provider in her community in Brazil. Her great grandmother spent her life caring for mothers in her town, but passed away due to complications after a stroke — conditions that could have been prevented if she had access to hospice care, says Silva.
When her other great grandmother fell while gardening and couldn’t access the hospice care she needed, Silva decided she needed to learn how to help. A few years later, she attended Federal Fluminense University to study nursing.
“It bothered me that someone that spent her life helping so many people or taking care of you while growing up didn’t have appropriate care when passing,” says Silva, who is now earning her doctorate in nursing practice at UB through a grant from the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation of Brazil.
At UB, Silva’s research focuses on oncology, or cancer treatment, and end-of-life care. She is preparing her dissertation on improving the quality of life for lung cancer patients by managing fatigue and sleep disorders under the mentorship of Grace Dean, associate professor of nursing.
“Research is the bridge to improve the clinical setting,” says Silva, who also spearheaded BRASCON, an international Brazilian graduate student conference in Boston.
“When I worked in the clinical setting as a bedside nurse, I wanted to promote changes that I wasn’t able to do. As a nursing researcher, we have more of a position to make adjustments and create new technologies.”
As a child, UB nursing researcher Kafuli Agbemenu wanted to be a veterinarian. While growing up in Nairobi, Kenya, she cared for her family’s pets, which included dogs, cats and rabbits.
However, after learning that vets are required to study the anatomy of various groups of animals, learning to care for humans seemed less daunting.
“I was fascinated by the human body as an incredibly well-designed machine,” says Agbemenu, assistant professor of nursing.
“I wanted to learn how the human body functions and I thought nursing was a good place to learn that.”
As a teenager, Agbemenu shadowed nurses at local Kenyan hospitals, confirming her desire to make an impact on people’s lives.
She now focuses her research on women’s reproductive health in African immigrant and refugee populations. Her next study will involve designing an instrument that examines the attitudes, beliefs and behaviors in six domains of reproductive health in the African refugee community.
“It’s exciting to be in nursing at a time that allows for specialization in countless arenas,” says Agbemenu.
“Working at the bedside, I realized there was only so much you can do to make people better. You can relieve the symptoms for a moment in time. I want to make a greater impact by working with entire communities.”
While growing up in Lyndonville in Orleans County, Jillian Barry saw firsthand how people in the 800-person village lacked access to health care and health education.
So when it came time to declare her major at UB, she chose social work with the goal of bringing care to communities that need it most. But while interning at the Orleans County Department of Mental Health, Barry realized she could help her patients both socially and physically through nursing.
“Nursing is a beautiful blend of social work and medicine,” says Barry, who is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in nursing this May.
“We have a responsibility to educate people and stop medical problems before they happen, and we also need to be culturally aware.”
During her junior year, Barry organized her own trip to Mexico to volunteer with community health clinics and hospitals in an area where the nearest trauma center is five hours away.
She recently traveled with UB nursing and dental students to Tennessee to assist Remote Area Medical, an initiative that offers no-cost clinics to people in impoverished or isolated areas. Barry helped provide dental fillings and extract teeth.
“Talk about eye-opening, people camped out for a day and a half or slept in the parking lot overnight just to get into the clinic,” she says. “To help people better their lives is such an amazing feeling.”
After graduation, Barry will join the emergency department at the University of Rochester Medical Center as a nurse resident.
Bravo to these nurses who represent the heart and soul of nursing.