When Amber Perez injured her back on the job, she was shocked to realize her career as a bedside nurse could be over. The long-term effects of the injury were substantial enough that she could no longer endure the daily physical demands on her body. She saw before her a fork in the road when it came to her career. As a wife and mom of three young children, she and her husband were already living paycheck-to-paycheck and were receiving public assistance. She could either find a job, any job, where she would have to accommodate her limitations, or she could use her experience to go back to school and make a difference for others.
“Can I make sure this doesn’t happen to anybody else?” Perez recalled asking herself. “Can I be a force or a voice for other nurses to help change the work environment?”
She chose to work for change. Her goal was to promote best practices for nurses to avoid workplace injuries. To do that, Perez knew she had to reinvent herself by acquiring new skills and education. And so, she did what she had done so many times before in life, even prior to her injury—she found a way to move forward.
Perez was no stranger to overcoming adversity. She got pregnant as a teenager, and by the time she injured her back in 2010 she had buried a husband and two children. At 22, Perez remarried and had three children. She was working as a nurse and once she knew she wanted to go back to school, she blazed forward.
“In order to go from bedside nursing to business administration, I had to fill in those educational blanks,” Perez said. “I was really determined to go back to school.”
After researching several educational options, she signed up for courses in the University of Phoenix’s Bachelor of Business program. She was drawn to UOPX because of the flexible schedule that accommodates her “chaotic” life, allowing her to spend time with her husband and children while working full time. Over the next five years, she earned her bachelor’s degree and then a Master of Health Administration, which she completed in 2017.
During her first research class at UOPX, she began a project that would ultimately contribute to her success in her career. Perez was working for a hospital organization at the time on injury prevention for nurses. Her team at work had developed an assessment tool to help nurses avoid injuries when moving patients — one of the main ways nurses are hurt on the job. They brought the tool to hospital administrators, but were told they could only use validated assessment tools.
Working under a Ph.D. nurse researcher, Perez volunteered to participate in the study to help validate it. She said the course she was taking at school helped her be confident and effective in contributing to the validation project as a co-investigator. She was able to immediately implement what she was learning in school to help the team solve a real-life problem — applied research in action.
“It felt like an entire internship. In real time, I was able to apply the education which made it so much stronger,” she said. “I was learning a skill and actually implementing what I was learning. I was applying the statistics … I was analyzing my injury data.”
Eighteen months, lots of data collection, and hundreds of patient interactions later, the nursing mobility assessment became the only validated tool of its kind. Perez co-authored a paper about it that was published in a medical journal. She is now recognized as an industry leader, working with hospitals nationwide with speaking engagements around the world, doing exactly what she envisioned when she faced that fork in the road — helping nurses avoid workplace injuries and also improve patient outcomes. Perez now holds an executive position as a director of clinical services, and says she earns significantly more than she did as a new bedside nurse.
“It’s really filling a gap in healthcare and I helped make a difference,” she said. “It’s very fulfilling.”
Perez said she has been more successful than she ever imagined. But even more rewarding to her is that she has been able to accomplish what she first set out to do by helping to change the nursing culture in a positive way. She credits it largely to her experience at University of Phoenix.
“I feel like every one of my classes contributed to the person I am today,” she said. “In real time, I was able to directly interpret my education into a product. I see it in all I do and in all of the success I’ve had.”