By Matt Skoufalos
Ultimately, it was weather that brought Sharon Sikora to the West Coast. A native of Dearborn, Michigan, Sikora “lived through all those lovely winters with the snow and the cold and the ice,” with her husband, Lenny Munari, a native Chicagoan.
A move from Detroit to Chicago didn’t yield any greater seasonal relief, and the couple started looking for a bigger change.
After visiting San Diego for a wedding, the couple started exploring options: Sikora was recruited for an operating-room manager position at Saddleback Memorial Medical Center in Laguna Hills, California, and Munari was able to replace an outgoing perfusionist at its sister hospital. After 11 years on the West Coast, they’re prepared to call it a success.
Today, Sikora is the Clinical Director of Surgery at Presbyterian Intercommunity Hospital Health System in Whittier, California, the result of advancements in a career that began with two years in cardiac and step-down care at Oakwood Hospital in Dearborn, Michigan – the very hospital in which she was born. Sikora recalls performing a variety of nursing services until the facility began its open-heart surgery program in the late 1980s.
“I got invited to be a part of the team, and then I did scrubbing and circulating for a few years, and then back to the heart again,” she recalled. “We had a program there where we taught nurses to first assist, so I joined that group, I RNFA’d for several years, I circulated and scrubbed, and then I could first-assist.”
“It was the best-worst job I’ve ever had,” she said. “It was so fun and so exciting but so physically demanding. It was very interesting and very rewarding, because you got to see the patients and the outcome.”
Sikora entered the profession because of an interest in the human body, and to her, the human heart remains the most fascinating part of it. Helping people is in her DNA, Sikora said, and nursing was a natural career path. Her mother was a hospital worker, and soon Sikora found herself pushing into the field, too. Breaking into the OR was harder to do without experience, but she acclimated to the training, and continued on while broadening her hands-on education. Those experiences have continued to serve her well, Sikora said, because the techniques she acquired while working in different specialties continues to inform her approach in the operating room, which in turn accommodates a variety of interests.
“There’s so many different services to work in – neuro, ortho, heart, GYN – and you can find your little area in the OR that you love and that you’re passionate about and that you find interesting and exciting,” Sikora said. “It makes you a better circulator because you see the surgery from a whole different perspective, and it makes you a better team member. There’s enough variety that I was never bored.”
In the years since, nurses have expanded their roles “more than we ever did before,” Sikora said, and as a result, are working side by side with physicians more closely than ever. After having entered the field with an associate degree, many nurses like Sikora have chosen to bring their professional education up to speed with advanced degree coursework. When her friend decided to return to complete a bachelor’s degree, they went back together – 14 years after she’d started her career – and she’s never stopped.
Sikora completed an allied health course of study at Siena Heights University in Adrian, Michigan, and then went from working as a staff nurse in Michigan to leading a cardiac team at Evanston Hospital in Chicago, Illinois, where she helped establish two open-heart programs and became a surgical case manager. Not long after, she pushed for more advanced education, and started pursuing a master’s degree in management at North Park University. That led to a position at Evanston’s sister hospital, Glenbrook Hospital, where Sikora became manager of the operating and recovery rooms. She decided to pursue additional education, and earned a master’s of management at North Park University in Chicago, which Sikora said taught her to deal with change, to negotiate with people, and to become a better manager.
“It made me a better worker,” she said.
Today, Sikora is still continuing her education, pursuing a joint BSN and an MSN with a specialization in informatics from American Sentinel University of Aurora, Colorado. The pursuit of ever-advancing degrees has contributed not only to her career advancement, but to her personal fulfillment within it. Her advice to aspiring nurses as well as those already deep in the field: follow your passion.
“As nurses, we have a role in people’s life unlike anyone else’s,” Sikora said. “You meet people at their worst because they’re sick. Find something that makes you happy and just keep looking until you do. Keep looking and keep asking questions.”
When she’s not hitting the books or scrubbing up, Sikora is hitting the trails. Munari is a marathoner, and she is content to support him on those efforts — which she confesses are easier to endure in California temperatures than in Midwestern ones. The couple also resides near some protected wetlands, which Sikora said she loves to explore with her very energetic Labradoodle.
“I love to go up there and just connect with nature,” she said.