BCM Neurosurgery is proud to celebrate Black History Month. This February, we caught up with nurse practitioner Lona Winnegan, MSN, APRN, NP-C, who has been with the department for eleven years. Read in her own words what inspired her to pursue this career:
What inspired you to pursue a career as an NP?
I have always loved educating patients and empowering them to make decisions that will improve their health. It is so rewarding when you can make an impact on a patient and see changes in behavior that result in improvement in quality of life. The autonomy you have as an NP really allows you to build relationships with your patients.
Working in neurosurgery, how does it feel to be a woman in a male-dominated field? Are there any challenges you feel you have had to overcome?
Over the years, I feel that being a woman is less noticeable in this male-dominated field. It feels more like I am noticed for what knowledge and talent I can bring to the department, my team and my patients and less about my gender.
The bigger challenge, I have noticed, is with the patient population. I feel that initially, patients want to see/hear from the male surgeon. I make it clear that while I am not the surgeon, my role as a nurse practitioner is to assess/evaluate, diagnose, prescribe, educate, and treat them during the perioperative period. Once my role in their care is established, the collaborative relationship between the surgeon and NP becomes apparent and the patients are welcoming to the care I provide.
Where have you found empowerment in your career journey?
I have found empowerment from the many NPs, physicians, surgeons, and administrators I have met throughout my career. One of my fondest memories was when I was pregnant with my son and the women's health NP spent time educating me at each visit. I felt my healthy delivery was due to the decisions she helped me make during my pregnancy. When I pursued my NP degree, I frequently thought about this memory and used it as motivation as I wanted to have the same impact on a patient's life.
I later became a patient myself who required neurosurgery care for many years. The BCM neurosurgeons and my NP literally saved and changed my life. The surgical procedures and the healthcare guidance to make lifelong adjustments stuck with me. I feel I am a better NP because I have been a patient. I know what it feels like to feel pain, fear, hopelessness and loss of control. When patients voice their concerns to me, I listen to them and offer guidance through the surgery and recovery period.
As clinicians, we deal with surgery and the surgical process every day, our patients do not. We have to make patients comfortable in our world. My healthcare values and passion are known by those who work with and around me. I have the amazing fortune of being able to walk next door to my mentor whenever I need any kind of assistance and she always has time for me.
What advice would you give to individuals from underrepresented groups considering a career in medicine?
Never count yourself out! If you are passionate about a career in medicine, stay focused, be a sponge and take every opportunity to be involved and in the room. I have received many opportunities just from being present and having passion as well as compassion. Learning from a textbook is only part of entering healthcare, you also have to be relatable.