March 2, 2024

The best way to honor National Nurses Week is to shine the spotlight on a handful of Hawai‘i’s finest caregivers.

Since the days of Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole, nurses have played an essential role in societies. Often viewed as the very heart of health care, these professionals are beloved for the countless and vital services they provide — from conducting routine physical exams and taking detailed medical histories to providing necessary counseling and education, meeting patients’ emotional needs and so much more.

Little wonder why for an impressive 20-straight years, nursing has been voted the most trusted and ethical profession in America, according to Gallup’s annual survey.

Despite their clear value, more caregivers are needed today in order to meet the growing health care demands in communities across the country. Here in the islands, Hawai‘i Pacific Health has increased efforts to attract new talent while maintaining its workforce of registered nurses — currently numbered at just over 1,600 at the four medical centers the nonprofit represents. These recruitment endeavors range from offering summer internships to high school students hoping to get a first-hand look at the industry to allowing college nursing students to participate in its nursing academies.

To highlight all the good these health care professionals do and in celebration of National Nurses Week (May 6-12), MidWeek is presenting the following profiles on five women from Hawai‘i Pacific Health’s network of hospitals — all of whom embody the finest ideals in modern nursing and all who still love their callings as caregivers. These nurses are often described as caring and empathetic,

committed and determined, industrious and selfless. They’re also viewed as excellent communicators who are devoted to patient advocacy and who possess incredible amounts of stamina.

Just who are these remarkable women? They are Noelani Comorposa and Kawailehua Cornel of Straub Medical Center, Lori Ikeda of Kapi‘olani Medical Center for Women & Children, Jasmin Pacheco of Pali Momi Medical Center, and Tayler Rex of Wilcox Medical Center on Kaua‘i.

Now, turn the page and start getting to know them a little better.

Embracing Her Destiny

Jasmin Pacheco, RN
Pali Momi Medical Center

Jasmin Pacheco was born to be a nurse. It just took her a while to recognize the signs. The first indication that she was bound for the medical field came when she was 16, and working as a lifeguard, and had to perform CPR on a 12-year-old boy in distress.

“It was the first time I was exposed to someone experiencing a medical crisis,” she remembers. “I realized that I don’t panic. Everything goes calm and I can focus.”

The second hint came during high school prom when, following a fight that broke out between several attendees, she assisted a young man left with multiple stab wounds.

“I stayed with him and kept him awake until the ambulance arrived,” Pacheco recalls. “The EMTs told me that if I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, I should go into the medical field because the boy was alive because of me.

“He needed multiple surgeries but he lived, and we’re still friends to this day.”

For years, Pacheco ignored her instincts and these signs, despite acknowledging that “God kept putting people and situations in front of me to guide my path.” Eventually, however, she realized she could no longer deny the obvious. Ready to finally become what she was always meant to be, Pacheco enrolled in Hawai‘i Pacific University’s School of Nursing, where she graduated in 2018.

“I had to dig deep and really give it all I had to become a nurse,” she confesses. “I had four children before I was 25, so I waited until my youngest was in preschool before going to nursing school.

“I remember studying with my baby on my shoulder and reading from anatomy books to my three older children. I learn better through teaching, so I would tutor people so I could master that class. But it was a way to get done what I needed to while spending time with my family.”

These days, Pacheco is grateful to be working at Pali Momi Medical Center, where she recently completed her first year as a perioperative nurse. Finding employment at a place she fondly refers to as her “community hospital” not only fulfills her dream of working in an operating room, but places the Pearl City native in a position to help guide young people looking for direction — and maybe even signs — regarding their futures.

To those considering a career in nursing, Pacheco simply says, “Trust your gut. Don’t second-guess yourself because your intuition sets the day.”

A Promise Kept

Kawailehua Cornel, RN, BSN, board-certified PCCN
Straub Medical Center

When Kawailehua Cornel was in preschool, her mother made a recording of the youngster vowing to do something grand when she grew up. Specifically, the then 4-year-old boldly proclaimed in front of her graduating class, “I want to be a nurse to help doctors save lives.”

Funny how prescient children can sometimes be.

True to form, Cornel has been making good on her promise over the past 15 years, providing life-saving work to innumerable patients at Straub Medical Center. She’s been able to accomplish this with whatever team she’s been assigned to — the surgical unit, the advanced medical-surgery crew, even the neuro progressive care group that she’s currently a part of. Wherever she goes, Cornel has been a model of efficiency and a beacon of hope to patients.

“I like helping people,” she says. “During some of the worst times of people’s lives, I have the opportunity to make their experience just a tiny bit brighter. I’m happy to do it.”

Helping others comes naturally to the proud graduate of Moanalua High School and Linfield College. When the pandemic hit, for example, she chose to join forces with another team, nurses Alysha Ladiero and Jessica Custino, and do something beyond the walls of a hospital — and something positive to help lift others’ spirits in difficult times.

“We started sewing masks, baking treats and cooking plate lunches to raise money for local charities,” explains Cornel. “With the donations, we bought goods and food for the River of Life, Christmas gifts for kūpuna that were distributed by Catholic Charities of Hawai‘i, 900 pounds of food to the Hawai‘i Foodbank, three truckloads of school supplies for kids at Kahalu‘u Elementary School, (and) truckloads of Christmas gifts for veterans in need of large amounts of supplies for domestic violence centers.

“Through these projects, we saved ourselves during some of our toughest times as nurses.”

For those just entering the nursing profession, Cornel offers the following counsel:

“The grass is green where you water it. And just because something has been done a certain way for a long time doesn’t mean it cannot be changed, often for the better,” she notes. “Also, do not take things personally. And make sure to take care of yourself first. You can’t care for someone else if you’re not OK.”

The Determined One

Lori Ikeda, RN
Kapi‘olani Medical Center for Women & Children

One of the best lessons Lori Ikeda ever learned came when a college instructor refused to let her immediately quit the school’s radiologic technology program. Instead, he challenged her to stay the course, give greater effort and then, if she still felt like withdrawing, he’d grant her wish.

“He told me: ‘This is probably the hardest you ever had to study, isn’t it? This is not high school; it is time to grow up. Finish the semester, try your hardest and if you still feel like dropping out of the program, I’ll sign the (withdrawal) form,’” recalls Ikeda.

The pep talk worked.

“That gave me the strength and courage to endure the rigorous studies and graduate,” says Ikeda, who ultimately earned her associate’s degree in radiologic technology from Kapi‘olani Community College.

Since then, the Honolulu native has been resolute in her career pursuits. Even when her first attempt at applying for nursing school at University of Hawai‘i was rejected, she didn’t sit around and mope. Instead, she went to work as a ward clerk at Kapi‘olani Emergency Department, gaining valuable hands-on experience while developing greater appreciation for the nurses and doctors she labored alongside with.

To her credit, she was accepted into the nursing program at Mānoa the following year. Now, 35 years and some change later, she remains the only nurse within the Imaging Department at Kapi‘olani Medical Center for Women & Children — an important note because radiology happens to be the same field in which she began her career.

“I feel like my life has come full circle,” she says.

For Ikeda, there is much wisdom and experience to share with aspiring young nurses. Aside from encouraging them “to never give up,” she also suggests the following:

“If nursing is what you are truly passionate about, be humble, be grateful and appreciate the opportunity to do what you do,” she says. “If you are selecting the career for the money, know that you will be fairly compensated, but there is much more to being a nurse than the money you make.”

She’s Just Like Her Hardworking Parents

Noelani Comorposa, RN
Straub Medical Center

As the eldest of three daughters raised in a first-generation Filipino-American household, Noelani Comorposa grew to treasure qualities such as sacrifice and personal industry. Her parents epitomized these values after emigrating from the Philippines and were willing to work long hours or hold down multiple jobs just to give their children the opportunities they never had.

“Their belief in hard work was instilled in me and my sisters,” explains Comorposa. “My parents’ top priority for their children was education, so although we didn’t have much money, they helped me pay for college so I could earn my degree in nursing.”

Grateful for her parents’ example and sacrifice, Comorposa entered the medical profession 16 years ago and never looked back. Indeed, she was intent on following in her parents’ footsteps by working long and hard in the service of others.

For the past 11 years, she’s been employed as a registered nurse in Straub’s Cardiac Electrophysiology Clinic. It’s a job she wouldn’t change for the world.

“I never imagined myself in cardiac care, but I fell in love with it,” she says. “Many heart conditions are chronic, so we see patients regularly and build relationships with them. Knowing that what we do has such an impact on their lives, and being able to see them through it, is truly rewarding.”

While her parents remain her inspiration, Comorposa has other heroes, too, including her fellow registered nurse at Straub, Phyllis Kamada.

“She has a wealth of knowledge, is very thorough, and patients love her because she makes them feel at ease. She introduced me to the world of electrophysiology, mentored me and made me a cry a few times,” offers Comorposa. “But honestly, you haven’t been a nurse if you haven’t cried.”

For those willing to join this vital profession, Comorposa has the following advice: “Start working in the hospitals while you’re in college, so you can get a feel of nursing early.Also, communicate, take good notes, don’t be afraid to speak up if you need help and never stop learning.”

And, like Comorposa, never stop working hard.

Feeling At Home At Wilcox

Tayler Rex, RN
Wilcox Medical Center

Tayler Rex is probably one of the few people around who can honestly say they work in the same place where they entered the world.

“I was born at Wilcox (Medical Center) and discovered that some of my bosses started working at Wilcox the same year I was born,” she reveals. “How cool is that?!”

Of course, Rex’s connection to the Kaua‘i hospital goes even deeper, because her interest in nursing was first birthed there, too. At age 13, she was involved in a motorcycle accident that required a splenectomy and follow-up care.

“I needed to be in and out of the hospital several times and developed an admiration for the nurses and the physicians who treated me,” recalls Rex. “Every time I’d go in for an X-ray or CT scan, or to the Emergency Department in general, I felt safe when I was with them, and I wanted to be that for other people.”

After graduating from the nursing program at Kaua‘i Community College, she joined the staff at Wilcox Medical Center, where she has spent the last two-and-a-half years working as a registered nurse.

She says she enjoys all roles in nursing, including critical care, but her passion these days is in postpartum care for mothers and babies — and there’s good reason why. Rex is pregnant with her first child, a daughter, and is due to give birth in October.

“Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to work with babies and be a mom,” she acknowledges. “It’s such a special time for the introduction of new life … it’s so beautiful. People remember their delivery nurse. I aspire to be a part of that transition for the families.”

Rex also welcomes those considering a career in nursing and encourages them to “always have an open mind” and to “trust your gut!” Just as importantly, she hopes they remain intellectually curious and, ahem, pregnant with ideas.

“New science is coming out all the time, so you need to be open to learning, practicing and evolving because you’re never going to stop learning something new,” she says.


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