A Salute to our Veterans

Nurse Camp Grad Lands NorthBay Job

The leadership skills they learned in the military still serve Shelley Johnson, R.N., and Kim Novoa Villicana, R.N., well.

Gunshot wounds, stabbings, car accidents—little fazes those battle-tested nurses who got a head start on their careers while serving in the military.

NorthBay Healthcare is home to a cadre of military veterans, some having seen action in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, and other war zones. Others have faced the toughest Mother Nature can deliver, weathering Category 5 hurricanes and all manner of emergencies.

Representing every branch of the military, nurses who come to work at NorthBay bring invaluable experience from their service, according to Rhonda Martin, assistant vice president, Nursing Operations. “Military nurses bring discipline, high work ethics, and leadership skills with them when they join our team. I see it in action every day,” Rhonda says.

From Air Force to NorthBay Mentor

Kim Novoa Villicana, R.N., originally set her sights on a career as an elementary school teacher. Instead, she joined the U.S. Air Force in 1994 as a medic, stationed at David Grant Medical Center, and later aboard the U.S. Navy’s USS Mt. Hood ammunition supply ship. Throughout her service she gravitated toward mentoring roles, a natural offshoot of her interest in education.

“I spent time in the OB/GYN/Oncology/Endocrinology unit, where everyone was always a leader to new enlisted medics,” she says. Throughout those rotations, she taught classes to expectant mothers and assisted oncology and endocrinology physicians. “In turn, I had an opportunity to teach these roles and turn them over to the next candidate who had been selected for their leadership abilities.”

After leaving the service, Kim went on to obtain her bachelor’s degree in nursing from California State University, Sacramento.

“My military experience was so diverse and pleasurable, so full of growth and maturity, that I decided to pursue my education in nursing with the idea of one day translating my interest in teaching and became a preceptor.”

It’s a role she takes on now at NorthBay Medical Center, as a mentor to NorthBay’s next generation of nurses.

Bringing the Espirit de Corps

Brian Jimenez, R.N., perioperative services at NorthBay Medical Center (on the left in photo with Chief Petty Officer Gumba), agrees that the discipline he learned a corpsman in the U.S. Navy serves him still.

“The military prepared me by giving me the tools to stay calm under pressure, to always have a plan and a contingency plan,” he says. “As a corpsman you are expected to know everyone’s job and how to perform it. I see that as a nurse here at NorthBay; we do the same.”

Brian joined the Navy in 2000 and was stationed at Naval medical centers in San Diego and Bethesda, Maryland. He also served on the USNS Comfort, where he and his team received injured soldiers arriving via helicopters.

“We would triage them and send them off to the appropriate areas for treatment, such as CT scan or surgery. The trauma program we have here at NorthBay operates like a well-oiled machine, much like it was when I was active duty,” Brian says.

‘Army Brat’ Brought Aid to Honduras

Military life has always been a way of life for Shelley Johnson, R.N., director of Medical/Surgical Services for NorthBay Healthcare. “I’m actually an Army brat,” she says. “I had already been considering a nursing career while in high school, and was encouraged to consider ROTC by my father, an ROTC instructor.” His advice paid off: she received a scholarship to USF, where she earned her nursing degree.

The new nurse graduate and second lieutenant in the U.S. Army was then assigned to Tripler Army Medical Center on Oahu, where she spent just six weeks with a preceptor. “As an officer in the Army, you’re expected to be a leader and within two months on the floor on my own, I was regularly assigned the charge nurse role. It was a great experience,” Shelley recalls.

Two years later, Shelley was offered a six-month deployment to Honduras. Shortly after she arrived, however, the area was ravaged by Hurricane Mitch. “It was extremely scary,” she recalls. “The country was devastated, and most bridges, roads and many buildings were destroyed.”

Pressed into emergency service, Shelley and fellow military nurses, engineers, helicopter pilots, additional doctors, nurse anesthetists, and medics spent four months helping rebuild the country, and providing medical care to the local Hondurans.

“We had a small, five-bed inpatient unit, one operating room, an emergency room, and a clinic. A handful of Army nurses worked it all, seeing quadruple the patients we normally had. We also started running medical relief missions throughout the country,” she recalled.

“Since most of the roads and bridges were destroyed, we flew in UH-60 helicopters to the villages. We set up clinics in churches, schools, barns, or wherever, working eight to 10 hours straight, for four solid months.”

It gives her perspective as she calmly faces her challenges as director of medical and surgical services for NorthBay Medical Center and NorthBay VacaValley Hospital. “I’ve appreciated all the opportunities provided to me and the confidence NorthBay has placed in me,” she says. “I know it was my military experience that helped get me in the door initially, as a leader.”

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