South Florida Hospital News
Monday August 19, 2019

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May 2018 - Volume 14 - Issue 11




Nursing – The Profession That Can Open Doors

Not only is nursing a wonderful and fulfilling profession, but it can also open doors to numerous other careers. Just ask Lillian Rivera, RN, MSN, Ph.D. Dr. Rivera earned her nursing degree decades ago, but she still calls it, "a cornerstone of my life, because it is so important to my life professionally. Being a nurse has opened so many doors for me."

The most recent door would have a nameplate that reads "Administrator and Health Officer of the Florida Department of Health in Miami-Dade County," a position where Dr. Rivera oversees a $70 million budget and more than 750 employees. That she currently finds herself in this position is not a surprise to Dr. Rivera, as she said that she always knew public health would be her calling. "You go through different types of courses within your nursing training, and I think the public health community course was one of my favorite ones. I always had a passion for public health, and I was very determined to follow a path where I would progress to working in the public health field."
However, as Dr. Rivera acknowledged, the progress was occasionally spurred by help along the way that came from unexpected sources. "Some people call it fate, some call it destiny, some call it pure luck. I would say it was all of those. I did find in my life that people approached me unexpectedly, they came knocking on my door telling me that I had the capabilities of doing a job that I would not have thought, and those were always in leadership positions."
One example was the calling made by elected Mayor Dr. Hernan Padilla of San Juan, Puerto Rico, to join the Health Department of the Municipality of San Juan.  "Upon my appointment, I was able to oversee public health services and protect the health of the residents of San Juan as a Director of Nursing.  During this tenure I had the opportunity and honor to work under Dr. Pedro Rosselló, former Governor of Puerto Rico from 1985 until 1988."
Another call came while living in Puerto Rico with her husband and three children, when she was recruited by Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami for a Nursing Leadership position. "I was not seeking to leave the island, I was not seeking to do anything. I was in a hotel in San Juan with a friend of mine who was seeking work, and there was a job fair and she asked, do you mind going with me. I wanted to see what was going on, and lo and behold I was recruited! They told me, 'We'll pay your fare, take you to Jackson, and you check it out and see if you like it.' So I went to Jackson, and I really liked the philosophy, what the hospital had to offer. My husband said, 'If you want to go on this journey I will support you every way I can.' So we came to Miami and I haven't left since, and that was in 1988."
Following the position at Jackson Memorial, Dr. Rivera was Executive Community Health Nursing Director for the Florida Department of Health in Miami-Dade County, then was appointed to her current status. She has come a long way since her days of nursing and has much to be proud of. She mentioned in particular an organization she helped to create back in 2003, the Consortium for a Healthier Miami Dade. The Consortium comprises more than 400 organizations, united by the desire to help Miami-Dade County residents live healthier lives through collaboration and prevention-focused initiatives.
By way of further explanation, Dr. Rivera said public health cannot do the work alone. "The work of public health is done through partnership. It's done through what we call the public health system, which is composed of all of us – including the media, the private sector, the public sector, the universities, the hospital system, county government – that's the way it works.
"We're creating an environment where people can thrive – it's not just a visit with your doctor or hospital, you also need to have a safe environment to live in, you need a job to go to, you have to have great schools, education, you have to be able to thrive. That's all part of having good health. That is definitely something I'm very proud of."
With so many accomplishments and such a full career, Dr. Rivera admitted that it will soon be winding up. "I will be 65 and this job is coming to a close for me. I've prepared myself for the transition of leaving the job, but I want to make sure the person who comes behind me continues the work of moving the department forward in serving our community."
Her successor will be appointed by the governor, and the Department of Health, and ratified by the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners. The hope is that the new person will have been led into public health as Dr. Rivera was.

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