When Norma Walker came to the United States in 2002 to study horticulture, she had no idea her career would branch out in a new direction from plant science to nursing. Born and raised in Zimbabwe, Africa, Walker reached her early 30's realizing she wanted something more professionally than what her home country could offer.
With her uncle's sponsorship, Walker came to America and was quick to make friends here, immediately connecting with people from South Africa. She also noticed that most of them worked in healthcare. A friend brought her to King-Bruwaert House in Burr Ridge, encouraging her to take CNA (certified nursing assistant) classes. Walker did well in her studies and accepted a CNA position at K-B.
"I loved the work I was doing," Walker said. "I found it to be very fulfilling."
Walker's transition in nursing worked out well and it was advantageous that she spoke English that had been taught in Africa. Still, immersed in a new country with a different culture, she had so much to learn. She also had two children to raise and needed a higher salary. Fortunately, she was surrounded by caring, compassionate coworkers and managers who guided her career path.
"I was very lucky to have great leadership at K-B," Walker said. "They were advising and encouraging me all the time."
Walker recognized the career potential within her profession. She mentioned to many people that she wanted to go back to school and become a nurse. A resident overheard her conversation and approached management about supporting a scholarship to help Walker reach her goal. Once again, a life change was cultivated.
With scholarship funds supporting her, Walker started work on a bachelor's degree in nursing at Elmhurst College in 2005. During this time, the Vivian Peterson Scholarship was established at King-Bruwaert House and many other family members added donations to provide educational opportunities for others. It took Walker five years to earn her undergraduate nursing degree, but it was well worth her effort. She advanced to a nursing position as soon as she graduated.
In 2014, Walker decided to go back to school once again. This time she wanted to earn a Master's degree in nursing and selected St. Xavier University in Chicago.
"I have always really liked being in school," Walker said. "In school, you can be on top of all the evidence-based practices that are operating in the world. It's good to have this knowledge."
Walker graduated with her Master's in Nursing in May, 2017. K-B staff members attended her graduation ceremony and cheered for her accomplishment. Walker had already advanced to become the Unit Manager of K-B's 35-bed skilled nursing unit, overseeing RNs, CNAs and LPNs. She also works closely with residents and their families.
In her 14-year tenure with K-B, Walker has witnessed a major change in skilled nursing care. As residents age and stay home longer, they often enter long-term care settings with more complicated health conditions. She has set new goals to help educate families about the needs of their loved ones.
"We know that most people want to live independently, but realistically, many simply should not be living alone without care," Walker said. "It's important for families to understand their needs - both physical and emotional. My philosophy is to create an environment that supports happiness even when the physiology of the body is weak and compromised. I believe my nursing interventions are well received when residents are happy."
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By Community Contributor bonniek4, Chicago Tribune
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