Pinay elected president of premier US nurses group

According to the News found in Daily Inquirer, a Pinay nurse has just been elected as the President of a US nurses group which is such a great privelege for us filipinos, a copy on the Inquirer news found below.

By Cathy S. Babao Guballa

ZENEI TRIUNFO-CORTEZ, A REGISTERED nurse, has just taken her place in history. Last Sept. 1, Zenei became the first Filipino president of California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee, the premier organization of Filipino-American nurses in the United States.

Zenei is one of the four CNA presidents. The others are Americans. “I am deeply touched by the honor bestowed upon me by my fellow nurses,” Zenei tells the Inquirer in an interview.

“To have come so far in my life and now to share the responsibility of advocating for patients and RNs alike is nothing that I could have imagined.”

Zenei’s election marks a watershed moment for nursing, which has increasingly become a global profession marked by steady migration from the Philippines, as well as for the larger Filipino-American people, now numbering more than two million, but is only beginning to acquire the social and political representation it deserves.

Founded in 1903, the California Nurses Association, and its national arm, the National Nurses Organizing Committee, is one of the nation’s premier nurses’ organizations and health care unions.

Big group

One of the fastest growing health care organizations in the US, the group at present has 75,000 members in 40 states, representing nurses at scores of hospitals, clinics and home health agencies.

Since 2000, over 19,000 RNs at 50 hospitals have elected to affiliate with CNA. It is the largest and fastest-growing organization of direct care registered nurses in the country, dedicated to providing a voice for nurses and a vision for healthcare.

It’s been a long and hard road for Zenei who migrated to the US in the early ’70s. A brother who was with the US Navy sponsored all nine Triunfo siblings, Zenei among them, together with their parents, Aniano Villote Triunfo and Jovita Celi Triunfo.

Becoming a nurse was farthest from the young Zenei’s mind. “I did not know that I would become a nurse,” she says.

However, she has long been in the company of Registered Nurses. Her dad’s youngest sister Linda was part of the RN Exchange program in the ’60s, so was her first cousin Annie. Her sister Cindy and her sisters-in-law, are also nurses. She would later inspire her niece Melissa to also become an RN.

Zenei went to school in Chicago and began her career as a medical-surgical RN after her graduation in 1980. She moved to California in 1982.

Getting started

In the next 27 years, her range of experience would include Oncology, Orthopedics, Telemetry and Critical Care. She is at present a Staff IV nurse in the Post Anesthesia Care Unit at a hospital in San Bruno.

Reflecting on her election, Zenei says she will never forget her earliest challenge as only one of two Filipinos in her nursing school. “I had to work extra hard to prove that Filipinos could excel in their chosen careers,” she says.

Zenei says that she has always believed in the power of the CNA especially when, in 1990, she was denied her current position. “CNA helped me through the grievance process and eventually I prevailed. From then on, I became a nurse representative to help fellow RNs resolve issues. I do not want them to go through what I went through,” she says.

Having seen her struggle, her fellow RNs encouraged her to “officially” speak for them by running for office.

“I took on the challenge because I want RNs, especially Filipino RNs, to speak up for their rights, advocate for their patients and themselves,” Zenei says.

She has been elected to the State Board of Directors for three terms (two years for each term) and then was elected vice president for two terms (also two years for each term). “Each time election comes around, I, together with other colleagues running for office, do launch a campaign. Since most of our constituents know us, they continue to support us,” she says.

The CNA has grown to a point where there is now a national arm—the National Nurses Organizing Committee (NNOC). Members are spread out all over the US.

Zenei explains that the scenario has prompted the organization to change its structure.

Health reforms

“Given the fact that we now have members from coast to coast, it will be too hectic for just one president to handle all the duties and responsibilities,” she says.

“We are also bedside RNs who see to it that our patients get the quality care they deserve. Having a council of presidents allows us to remain at the bedside and lead the organization.”
The council shares the job equally and it is a two-year term.

As one of the presidents, Zenei says that she will personally push for universal healthcare for all with a single standard of care and a single payer. “I will also continue to pursue patient advocacy and advocacy for the nursing profession,” she says.

The new CNA president remains a Pinoy at heart as she continues to speak Tagalog at home and subscribes to The Filipino Channel.

Close family ties

Like many other Filipino migrants, Zenei and her family live very close to one another. She still calls her older siblings kuya and ate.

“There is a lot of family support,” she says. “My mom who is 85 tends to cook a lot everyday, just in case us kids or grandkids will drop by to eat. My dad who is 89 spends a lot of time in his garden. He gives me healthy plants and I simply return it to him when it is dying.”

Support became especially important when she battled cancer almost five years ago. The love and support of her husband Robert, who works for a major hotel chain, and her family helped her pull through one of the trying times of her life.

It also helps, she says, that she had excellent healthcare coverage. “I did not have to worry about running out of insurance coverage. I was off for six months and again because of our contract language, I was able to save up all the sick time I earned through the 25 years of my employment,” she says.

Like her parents and siblings, her husband never left her bedside, especially through two and a half months of daily radiation therapy.

“All the love and support and my strong faith in God helped me get well,” she says.

“Being a patient allowed me to see first hand the incredible work RNs do everyday. I received good care. It was not difficult for me to navigate the healthcare system because I know the system. It will perhaps be different for those who do not know. But again as RNs, we are there for them.”

Advice to young nurses

Earlier this year, Zenei was home. She was in Manila in January when she was invited to speak to the graduating nursing class of Lyceum in Batangas and its sister campus.

“I was glad to meet enthusiastic students and instructors. They’re a very nice and hospitable people. I had the opportunity to tour their classrooms and clinical labs all of which are very modern.”

To young nurses desiring a better life overseas, she gives these pointers: For those RNs who want to go abroad, please read the fine prints of your contract - Ask questions, get the answers in writing. Exploitation is on the rise.

A very important question to ask is, “Just in case you do not pass the state boards, what will happen to your status?”

She says one’s future employer needs to provide orientation and training, especially with the new technology.

Love your career

“Look for a mentor who can assist you in your new work place. There is usually a mother figure willing to take on that role. Do not be afraid to ask questions when you are unclear on things,” she says.

“Above all, do not just go into nursing because it pays well abroad. You need to have the passion for the profession and the patience to face different challenges everyday. You need to be aware of the diverse cultural backgrounds your patients will have. Learn to be assertive. Work on your communication skills. Love your career.