Anyeli “Jelly” Pichardo, BSN, RN, has a long history with her beloved Southern Jamaica Plain Health Center.
Born in Boston, she was sent to the Dominican Republic to live with her aunt during her childhood. When she returned to Boston as a teenager, she became a patient at the center and credits the staff with “saving my life” when she struggled with various medical issues. As a mother, she chose the center for her two daughters’ care. And when she began to consider a career in health care, she was overjoyed to obtain a job as a practice assistant and later as a medical assistant at the center she considers a second home.
But nothing will top how she feels when she enters SJPHC on Dec. 5 as a graduate nurse — the culmination of a multi-year journey to overcome many challenges and answer her calling to nursing.
“I know what SJPHC did for me as a patient, and that’s what I wanted to do for others eventually,” said Pichardo, who graduated with her bachelor’s degree in nursing in August. “At the clinic, we do it all, from financial assistance to food security, domestic violence interventions and resources, social justice, pediatric care and mental health. It’s so well-rounded in how we support patients. I knew this was what I wanted. This is what I love.”
‘It Was a Nurse’
Pichardo wasn’t always interested in the nursing profession. She earned a bachelor’s degree in culinary arts and food services management in 2012 and worked as a chef for almost nine years.
“Food was my passion, but I guess my calling was something else,” Pichardo reflected.
She experienced that calling during one of the most difficult times imaginable. Her then 5-year-old daughter went into Kawasaki shock, a difficult-to-diagnose illness that can be life-threatening. At the time, cases were rare. “She was in the ICU for weeks, with high fevers, an inflamed liver and a strange rash,” said Pichardo, who was a single mother at the time. “It was a nightmare, and nobody could give me an answer.”
Then, one day, Pichardo commented to a nurse about the purplish hue of her daughter’s lips and the way her tongue was sticking out. “The nurse said to me, ‘Oh, I know what she has,’” Pichardo recalled. “Then she made a phone call, and it felt like a SWAT team arrived, with all these staff coming to the room.”
The lifesaving role that nurse played in her daughter’s care illuminated the incredible contributions of nurses, Pichardo said.
During her daughter’s care experience, several other nurses noted Pichardo’s insightful questions, advocacy and research, asking if she was also a nurse. “When I said no, the nurse told me she thought maybe I wasn’t in the right field,” she recalled.
Those comments stayed with Pichardo as her daughter recovered. “A nurse diagnosed my daughter,” she said. “A nurse held my hand for days in the ICU. It was a nurse who told me I was in the wrong field. The person who educated me on Kawasaki was a nurse.”
The experience, though difficult as a parent, gave her an introduction to the profession and the hospital environment. “I was exposed to so much,” she said. “I saw how nurses cared not just for patients, but also for the families.”
At the time, Pichardo decided to leave her job as a chef and look into the requirements for nursing school. It turned out she only needed two pre-requisite courses, which she completed at Roxbury Community College.
Support to Achieve Her Dreams
Seeking more experience in health care, Pichardo inquired about job opportunities during an appointment at SJPHC and was subsequently hired as a practice assistant.
“I loved it,” she said. “I then also got a part-time job as a unit coordinator for the Thoracic ICU at Tufts on weekends. That’s when I knew this is really what I wanted to do.”
But the financial challenges she faced as a single parent of two made her goal of completing her nursing degree seem unattainable. Nadia Raymond, PhD, MSN/MHA, RN, regional nursing director of the center, encouraged Pichardo, who by then had become a medical assistant, not to give up.
“She said resources are out there, and then she told me about the Neskey Scholarship,” Pichardo said.
The Neskey Educational Opportunity Scholarship was established by the Neskey family to honor the extraordinary care they received at the Brigham from a patient care associate (PCA). Each year, these scholarships support PCAs and similar roles, including medical assistants, in completing their bachelor’s degree in nursing at the University of Massachusetts Boston.
Pichardo was elated to find out she received the Neskey scholarship. She completed her degree within a year as she worked part-time at the center and cared for her daughters, ages 5 and 11.
Setting a Strong Example
Pichardo was originally hired as a graduate nurse, which would enable her to practice under the supervision of a preceptor until passing her board exam. The week prior to starting at SJPHC, Pichardo took the exam and officially became a registered nurse.
“I’m most looking forward to being more involved with our patients and their health,” she said. “Many patients have been there 20 or 30 years, and I want to work with them, especially in educating them about preventive care and preventing hospitalization for chronic conditions.”
As she begins her nursing career, Pichardo hopes that her story may benefit others. “All I want is to be an example and serve as a motivation for people who think they can’t do it,” she said. “I’m a single parent coming from nothing, I’m divorced, I have two kids and I’m going for what I believe in and my dreams. You can do it.”
She credits the team at SJPHC, especially Raymond and Pivel Morton, executive director, for their continual mentorship and encouragement, along with Robert Oldshue, MD, the doctor whom she believes changed her life as a teenager and now works alongside as a colleague.
“Nadia and Pivel pinned me at my graduation,” she said. “How can you not love working at a place where people support you so much?”