Heather Herrera receives NOCH nurse award

Krystle Wagner • Jun 6, 2019 at 1:00 PM

Heather Herrera’s decision to start a new career several years ago led her to caring for patients.

Herrera recently received the 2019 Nurse Excellence Award from colleagues at North Ottawa Community Hospital. Receiving the award came as an honor and shock, said Herrera, who makes an effort to do her best for her patients and not for the recognition.

“I do it because that’s how I was brought up, and that’s how I am myself,” said Herrera, a registered nurse who has worked at NOCH for six years.

Before entering the medical field, Herrera was a licensed cosmetologist for 15 years. Her path changed following the experience of her father’s lung cancer diagnosis and the care he received. For 18 months, her father went through surgery, chemotherapy and radiation before he died. She said that experience led her to an interest in nursing.

Although Herrera said she enjoyed her previous career, she’s glad she entered the medical field because she knows firsthand how patients feel, and she can care for them. Herrera said she wants to help patients and their families the way nurses helped her and her father.

Established in 1993, the Nurse Excellence program is a way for peers to acknowledge each other for their efforts. Dr. Don Sikkema, an internal medicine physician, started the NOCH program after his daughter received the recognition at a different medical facility.

Sikkema noted the award is an honor given to nurses after being nominated by their colleagues, not by the health system or administration. The doctor said he believes nurses are special people and the award is a way to honor their contributions to the medical field.

As current and retired nurses gathered for this year’s awards, they shared stories.

Nancy McCollom, who worked for NOCH for more than 30 years, shared stories about her time as an inpatient nurse. McCollom, who also received the Nurse Excellence Award when she was employed, shared that a loan from Sikkema helped her become a registered nurse.

At the time, McCollom’s husband had a second heart attack and open-heart surgery, and he was unable to work. Her children were also young, and she didn’t have the funds to continue her education. Sikkema provided a loan, which McCollom paid back.

“It made such a difference in my life, what he did,” she said.

Herrera, who is from Muskegon, said she chose to work at NOCH because of the family feeling, and that staff and patients know each other. While delivering care, Herrera said she hopes to make patients feel comfortable and put a smile on their faces.

“That’s my goal,” she said.

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