By Matt Skoufalos
In 2001, Leticia Ramirez was working in customer service for Commonwealth Edison, the largest electricity provider in Illinois. She’d felt pushed to embrace a more meaningful career, and knew she needed to make a change in her current path if that was to happen. The terrorist attacks of September 11 simply catalyzed her resolve.
“It was something that was a wakeup call,” Ramirez said. “Whether it was 9/11 itself, or the way that the company was changing, or the economy and different things, I knew I needed to do something a lot more meaningful.”
“I’ve been on my own since I was 17; I had my son very young,” she said. “When my son started kindergarten, I started nursing school.”
The experience was intense. Nursing school on its own is a challenge; for a single, working mother of a school-aged child, there were some added hurdles. Ramirez didn’t shy away from any of them. “It was hard,” she said. “I wouldn’t wish nursing school on my worst enemy.”
“I had a great professor who told us our first semester, ‘You will have no life, and you need to be OK with it,’ ” Ramirez recalled. “‘Nursing school will ‘de-A’ you’ — we’re all pretty much A students — and you have to be OK with it,’ ” her professor told them.
“You can’t let it crush you; you have to work that much harder,” Ramirez said. “You have to have a strong foundation and be dedicated.”
Her dedication to her studies and her son never wavered. Ramirez recollects working 38 hours in a given weekend to free up her weekdays for study and attending to his needs as a room mom, Little League coach, and youth football volunteer. By the time she graduated in 2007, Ramirez was already prepared for the long hours of working in the surgical unit of a Level One trauma center, Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Illinois. Its proximity to the south side of Chicago meant that the facility saw the effects of 50 to 60 shootings on any given weekend. Ramirez fielded trauma calls while putting her stamp on the orthopedic surgery team, where she quickly rose to become a critical player during her five-year career there.
“It was exactly what I wanted to do,” Ramirez said. “I loved it, loved the people, and loved helping people. Every day is different, kind of wild, but I enjoyed it very much. I got the best foundation in nursing there.”
She described the experience of working in her first operating room as “totally baptism by fire,” and credits her generally calm demeanor with endearing her to surgeons who “were very high-adrenaline.”
“They used to kick other people out and ask for me in really tense situations,” Ramirez said.
In addition to supporting the emergency department, Ramirez found that she enjoyed working orthopedic cases quite a bit. That feeling stuck with her as she ramped up to 80-hour work weeks in the years that followed. But as her son was approaching high school, Ramirez decided to slow down the pace of things so that she could be more available for him.
She gave up the hospital environment for an office environment, running a private-practice orthopedic group for four years while spending more time with her son. The change also gave her a fuller picture of the patient experience, including pre- and post-surgery.
“In surgery, you only see the patients when they’re asleep,” Ramirez said. “You never know what it took to get them there, or what their outcomes are. Being able to put the pieces of the puzzle together is awesome.”
As her career progressed, Ramirez also discovered an interest in osteoporosis care, which had been highlighted by the World Health Organization as an area of concern given the mortality related to hip fractures. She wanted to bring awareness to the condition, and was pulled into a different care setting at Mid-America Orthopedics, where Ramirez helped to start a bone health program; eventually, she ran the surgery scheduling department, was active in marketing and business development at the facility, and became its surgery center administrator.
In November 2020, Ramirez left that position to join the Illinois Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Surgery Center, where she is the director of nursing. She’s also going back to school to complete her MBA at Purdue University, and even though she’s working as a director of nursing, she still scrubs in for procedures when staff are shorthanded.
“You can do a new job every year in a nursing role and never do the same thing twice,” Ramirez said. “There are so many different avenues.”
“My advice is live out your dreams and do what you want to do,” she said. “It’s one thing at a time; you never know which turn you’re going to take, or when it will turn.”
As a nursing leader, Ramirez said she is motivated to make her institution a great place to work, making sure staff are motivated to care for their patients, themselves and to help the center thrive. In an ambulatory setting, the environment is smaller and more controlled, which Ramirez believes offers a better work-life balance for everyone.
“I am very much into orthopedics and creating a great place for people to have a career,” she said. “But even before I graduated, working as a nurse extern, it’s gratifying knowing that you’re helping patients and helping them reach their goals.”
“In administration, I’ve been able to be exposed to more of the economics of health care, and, by being able to control costs in an ambulatory center, we are able to provide the same care with a much more cost-efficient model,” Ramirez said. “That’s not only helping the patients with their problems but this country in general.”
When she’s not working, Ramirez enjoys exercising on her Peloton, traveling and restoring her home. Today, her son is an adult as well, working full-time and house-hunting himself. She takes pride at having been able to raise him as a working mother in a career that has made a meaningful difference in her community.
“There are a lot of admirable nurses in society,” Ramirez said. “It’s a good way to give back, and to be able to take care of patients is an honor. You feel it on the very first day.”