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Young Alumni Award Recipient:
Franz Vergara

Franz VergaraAt 37 years old, Franz Vergara, DNP/PhD, RN, ONC, CCM, could already be considered a life-long learner. The credentials after his name speak volumes.

An advanced student, Vergara was a high school senior at age 15 and was applying to colleges. Although his mother was a pediatrician, Vergara didn't want to follow exactly in her footsteps. Yet he did want to pursue a career helping people. Nursing was calling him.

In 2003, he graduated from University of Santo Tomas College of Nursing in the Philippines at age 19. He soon launched his nursing career at the University of Santo Tomas Hospital.

After three years, Vergara immigrated to the U.S. to work at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit in the orthopaedics and rehabilitation unit. "From then on, I was hooked on orthopaedic and trauma nursing," he says.

In 2008, Vergara relocated to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, where he served in various clinical, administrative and leadership positions for the next decade.

Meanwhile, Vergara was at a crossroads in his career and he questioned whether he wanted to remain a nurse until retirement age. A life-changing encounter with a former patient who thanked him for his care made him realize he wanted to continue in nursing by leading and teaching other nurses. That reflection led him to pursue graduate study so he could have more impact.

"As a clinical nurse and leader, I have seen the impact of nursing science on human lives," he says. "Sometimes I realize that I'm witnessing miracles on a daily basis. Seeing how we alleviate human suffering and pain is what makes me stay in the nursing profession."

In 2011, Vergara enrolled at Goldfarb School of Nursing at Barnes-Jewish College to pursue a dual-doctorate degree while he continued working at Johns Hopkins.

Vergara is now a 2017 graduate of Goldfarb's PhD/DNP program and is one of only a few students who have completed a dual-doctorate program concurrently. When he graduated, he received the Earle and Suzanne Harbison Jr. Academic Excellence Award.

"I was drawn to Goldfarb because of the innovative educational model to become a practicing scientist and an effective leader," he says.

More doors soon opened for the doctoral-prepared nurse leader. After Vergara worked as a nurse educator in The Johns Hopkins Nurse Residency Program, he began a quest for new experiences.

"I lived in a bubble for several years," he explains. "For a decade, I worked at Johns Hopkins Hospital, one of the best in the world, but I wanted to know what was going on other places around the country, too. So, I decided to test the waters elsewhere and traveled as a nurse leader in the San Francisco area and Atlanta."

When the pandemic hit in 2020, he moved back closer to his family in the Washington, DC, area. However, he stays closely connected to his peers in the hospitals where he worked.

In late 2020, he became a director of clinical operations for Inova Health System at Mount Vernon Hospital in Alexandria, Virginia.

With an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, Vergara is now pursuing a master's degree in population health management. "Information is changing daily so education keeps me sharp," he says.

While his early career focused on acute care, Vergara was excited when population health moved to the forefront of health care. "That was the missing piece of the puzzle," he says. "If we don't address population health, the cycle continues and we have a revolving door of hospital readmissions."

Since he graduated with his dual doctorate from Goldfarb, Vergara has published more than 10 articles and book chapters covering orthopaedics, case management, population health and education. In addition, he has disseminated more than 30 scholarly works at the national and international levels through poster presentations, podium, and peer-reviewed publications.

Vergara has been an adjunct professor at two universities as well.

"Serving as a conduit between loved ones and providing inspiration to the next generation are some of my proudest moments," he says. "I have dedicated my career to orthopedic nursing, covering the trifecta of nursing practice/administration, education, and research."

In early 2021, he was elected director of the National Association of Orthopaedic Nurses (NAON) executive board and is active in several other professional organizations as well.

While he has received multiple awards and honors, he says the most meaningful to him was when his team received an award for exceeding patient experience satisfaction goals during the pandemic.

"As a nurse, you have an impact on patients but also on their family and friends," Vergara says. "Now that I'm in leadership, my impact has expanded so I'm caring for patients as well as my team, especially during this pandemic. One of my proudest achievements has been to inspire both younger and seasoned staff members and peers to hang on and stay within the profession both during and after the height of the pandemic."

While his work, especially through the pandemic, can be serious, Vergara has the antidote: comedy. After encouragement from friends and colleagues, he is exploring a part-time career as a comedian.

"I like to laugh—it's how I cope," Vergara says. "A sense of humor is important these days, especially because the pandemic took such a toll on all of us."

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