Mari Pantoja-Smith, MSN, RN, defines herself as a “nursy nurse” - someone who has a passion for taking care of others, and who believes that nursing is more of a calling than a job.
“Nursing is not something that you go into for the money,” explained the 22-year nursing veteran. “It’s not easy to go to nursing school or to take care of patients, but it’s what you do when you want to help people.”
Pantoja-Smith originally planned to be a doctor, but followed the path to nursing instead.
“Life decides what’s in store for you,” she laughed. “I got pregnant at 18, and my then-boyfriend (now husband) and I couldn’t both go to school at the same time, so I deferred the idea of medical school. But I’ve always been passionate about the medical field, so I decided to go to nursing school, which I could still do as a young mother.”
It’s fortunate for her patients that she chose that route; her experience even helped her during an emergency on a JetBlue flight, where as the only medical professional aboard, she was able to provide treatment to a 17-year-old boy who was diaphoretic with a weak pulse.
“I stabilized him until we landed and the paramedics took over,” said Pantoja-Smith, who later found out that both of his parents were doctors at the University of Miami. “Thank God I knew what I was doing; they were so happy that I’d been able to use my experience to help.”
Though her more recent endeavors have had her working in the field of clinical informatics at Mednax for the past 5-1/2 years, she still appreciates all that nursing has provided her.
“It’s been a wonderful career, and I’ve tried to convince my three children to go into healthcare, but the two boys didn’t listen,” added Pantoja-Smith, who was a ‘front-liner’ until 2014. “I’m still hoping my daughter might!”
Pantoja-Smith first became aware of ACHE of South Florida when she was invited to an educational session in February of 2018. “After attending that one session, I wanted to know more,” she said. “I Googled the group and found out that a friend was a member, and the more I learned, I realized that I didn’t just want to join, but wanted to be hands-on.”
In 2019, Pantoja-Smith became the Student Services chair-elect, and she serves as its chair this year. “I’ve always been into education, and I’m really ambitious, so I have a lot of goals,” she said.
These goals include redesigning the student case study competition to include a real-life situation, to update the Student Services website page, and to increase interest in the ACHE of South Florida scholarship.
“While we normally use a case study from Deloitte or out of the Harvard Business Review, this year we worked with Brookfield Properties to create a case study that would not only help them, but raise money through sponsorship of the student competition,” she said.
More than $5,500 was raised toward this goal, though unfortunately, the case study had to be canceled due to the COVID crisis. Fortunately, it can be used next year.
“I’m also working to gain more notoriety for the ACHE of South Florida scholarship, because we don’t receive a lot of applications for the two scholarships that we award each year,” Pantoja-Smith said. “Student Services chair-elect Ayana Miller and I are making school visits across South Florida to let program coordinators know that it is available.”
Pantoja-Smith also continues to promote ACHE’s educational and networking opportunities. “When you meet people, you learn things - there is always a takeaway,” she explained. “There are so many different types of people in ACHE; they are not all nurses or doctors, and there’s so much you can learn from everyone with their unique skills and personalities.
“Learning is how you grow as a person, so I always look for opportunities to learn in any situation - there’s a blessing there,” she added.