Thrive by IU Health

December 10, 2021

Nurse started as a hospital volunteer: ‘My roots are a big part of me’

IU Health West Hospital

Nurse started as a hospital volunteer: ‘My roots are a big part of me’

Her personal and professional experiences have made her the person she is. Joan Ferres-Rodriguez is embracing those experiences in life and in her career with IU Health.

By IU Health Senior Journalist, T.J. Banes, tfender1@iuhealth.org

She’s honest as she reflects on her past and present. Joan Ferres-Rodriguez says she never really thought a lot about the path that brought her where she is now – including a few challenges – until she was asked.

She just did it.

What she did was start out as a pediatric intensive care volunteer with IU Health 15 years ago. She was taking shifts at Methodist Hospital when she landed her first job working in the hospital cafeteria. Two years later she transitioned to a lab technician at IU Pathology lab. After a year, she began working as a student nurse on the post-partum and delivery floor at University Hospital.

At the same time, she obtained her language interpretation license and served as a medical interpreter for Spanish speaking patients. All the while she was working toward her nursing degree.

When she completed her boards, she landed her first nursing job in the adult medical surgical unit. After spending five years working in neo natal intensive care at another hospital she returned to IU Health. That was in 2019 at the start of the pandemic and Ferres-Rodriguez worked nights as a remote patient monitoring nurse. A year ago she took on the role of program coordinator while continuing to work nights. She recently became supervisor for IU Health’s Hospital at Home and Tele-Health program - part of IU Health’s home care system.

The career climb hasn’t always been smooth. She had her first daughter midway through nursing school and went from a full-time student to a part-time student. At one point she had to petition her university to continue with the nursing program.

“I walked around campus when I was pregnant, and it was freezing cold. Then when I had my daughter, I’d bundle her up and take her to classes with me,” said Ferres-Rodriguez, 34. That daughter is now 11, and she has a second daughter who is five. She met her boyfriend while working at IU Health West. They’ve been together for six years.

“At Methodist there was a computer lab for employees. On my breaks I’d looked up tuition reimbursement and other resources to help me stay on course,” said Ferres-Rodriguez.

A 2005 graduate of Brownsburg High School, Ferres-Rodriguez knew early on that she wanted to become a nurse.

“I decided to get my toe in the water as a volunteer. I took the coffee cart around, passed out books and talked to patients. I got to hear a lot of great stories from the adult patients. When I moved into peds ICU my eyes were really opened. It can be hard,” said Ferres-Rodriguez.

A huge influence on her drive to complete her degree and excel in her career was her parents. They were also her greatest support.

Ferres-Rodriguez was born in Puerto Rico and her parents moved to the States when she was three. Her father worked as an airline mechanic and by the time Ferres-Rodriguez was in middle school he was an FAA airline inspector.

“He worked hard and taught me that whatever is put in your hands to do, you should do it to the best of your ability,” said Ferres-Rodriguez, who has a sister three years younger.

Two years ago January, Ferres-Rodriguez lost her mother who was 55. She died of complications from Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

“My mom had a drive to make some sort of impact in people’s lives. She made sacrifices for that drive. When we moved here she took what she had and poured into people’s lives,” said Ferres-Rodriguez. Like her daughter, Ferres-Rodriguez’s mother started her career working in a cafeteria.

“She was working at a school and because she was bilingual she began helping with English as a Second Language. That compassion for others was especially evident for those from different languages and cultures. She knew she was only one person but she could make an impact,” said Ferres-Rodriguez.

When her mother became ill, Ferres-Rodriguez worked nights in neo-natal intensive care to help provide care for her mother during the day.

“After she passed, I worked the night shift in NICU but the hospital setting began to catch up with me. It triggered so many things because that’s where we lost her,” said Ferres-Rodriguez. “I knew there were many opportunities as a nurse so I began to focus on management,” she said. And as the world was facing a pandemic, that flexibility served her well.

“Bedside care absolutely prepared me for where I am now. As a team lead, I know where they’re coming from, I’ve done the work they are doing and it’s important for me to be an advocate and also jump in when needed,” said Ferres-Rodriguez.

Overseeing the virtual care of patients involves monitoring vitals, and educating them to manage their own care to prevent hospital readmission.

It’s also important to Ferres-Rodriguez to educate her fellow workers from a standpoint of her culture.

“We often have patients who answer ‘yes’ to questions they may not really understand because in our culture we don’t want to be a bother and inconvenience to anyone,” said Ferres-Rodriguez. “I try to educate fellow workers to use open-ended questions to understand the patient’s needs and to dig a little deeper.”