Monique Hernandez has worked in the nursing field for 13 years. She knew she wanted to be a nurse since she was 8, as she frequently visited her teenage aunt, who suffered from childhood leukemia, in the hospital, and accompanied her to many chemotherapy sessions.
Monique expressed her desire to become a nurse on one of her second-grade journal assignments: “I want to become a nurse so I can save my aunt.”
The journal entry also mentioned Monique’s desire to work with kids who have cancer.
After completing junior college, Monique transferred to California State University to obtain her Bachelor of Science in Nursing.
“I kind of stalked the manager at the time, and I remember going to a skills day event and going up to her and introducing myself and saying, ‘Hello, my name is Monique, and I’m going to work for you,’” Monique says. “She told me they didn’t have any positions available at the time. I said, ‘OK, I’ll wait.’ Sure enough, it worked.”
Monique’s determination awarded her the position she wanted, and she began working in telemetry on the night shift.
At the beginning of her career, Monique kept a list of long-term and short-term goals for herself inside her Davis Drug Guide. Monique knew she wanted to become a charge nurse, and she started working as a relief charge nurse two years after working in the field. Her next goal that she achieved was to work in the intensive care unit (ICU), which Monique pursued after working as a relief charge nurse for a couple of years.
Eventually, a day shift position opened up in the telemetry unit, where Monique’s career began as a full-time charge nurse. She applied for this position but soon discovered that management was not thrilled with the idea of her having that role.
Monique had acquired a reputation with management because of her strong personality.
“I speak up constantly,” Monique says. “Accountability and integrity are big in my world.”
Though management tried to pass up Monique for the position, she did not back down.
“When I applied for that position and it wasn’t awarded to me, and I know I should have been the one that got it, I fought to get it,” Monique says. “I proved my point, and I eventually got the position.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Monique started working with the union and led a nurses’ strike for safe staffing.
After the strike, management turned Monique’s charge nurse position into a middle-management position, which has nonunion status.
“I was actually asked to apply for the position,” Monique says. “After a lot of thought and soul-searching, I couldn’t do it. So, I returned to the bedside.”
At this point in Monique’s career, she had begun doing a lot of work with the union. Though the position would have provided Monique with more income, she could not turn her back on her advocacy work.
Originally, Monique tried to go back to ICU, but they only had night shift positions available. So, she took on a part-time bedside position in a different department. On top of that, she started teaching nursing at a community college.
Now, she shares her experiences with her students, preparing them for work in the field and battles in nurse politics.
“I’m just one person, but if I can get all my students to start thinking, at least a little bit, about nurse politics, then maybe I can grow myself a little Nurse Mo Army,” Monique says.
Monique’s strong passion for safe and proper working conditions for nurses and adequate healthcare for patients drives her in all she does, which she proved during the pandemic.
Many nurses under her care caught COVID because their workplace did not provide the necessary equipment and staff to keep them safe. As the charge nurse, Monique blamed herself for her nurses getting sick, so she took a stand to fix their problem and protect her nurses.
“I did the only thing I knew how to do, which was start a ruckus,” Monique says. “So that’s what I did. I took it to the streets. I led another protest — a silent protest.
“I must’ve called every assembly member in the state of California. I had countless conversations. I got a hold of the damn governor, for crying out loud. I don’t stop when I feel attacked, more so for the people I love. These are people I’ve known since I was 28 years old, and now I’m 41.”
At this point, Monique’s advocacy work took flight. Monique always knew there were holes in the healthcare system. Because of the pandemic, the whole world could see those holes, too.
In her union, the Service Employees International Union Local 121 RN, Monique is on the executive board and the chair of the Committee of Political Education (COPE). Most of her work focuses on legislation, where she spends a lot of time talking to politicians.
“I love asking them, ‘What do you think you know about what I do? What is your idea of a nursing ratio?’” Monique says. “I love hearing their responses because then I know if they are going to advocate for the right thing for my profession and for my patients.”
As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, Monique has taken it upon herself to learn more about the transgender members of her community to help fight for their healthcare right as well.
Monique had a highly supportive family and friends when she came out as a lesbian. Still, she realizes many people in the LGBTQ+ community have negative experiences when they come out. These negative experiences include not obtaining proper healthcare — access to pregnancy, hormonal therapy, mental health therapy and surgical procedures.
“Constantly seeing the injustices that they face, that’s what keeps me going and fighting for human rights,” Monique says.
During Monique’s nursing career, she faced many obstacles that caused stress and affected her mental health, especially during the pandemic. To overcome these mental health issues, Monique sought therapy and began taking anti-depressant medication, which Monique never thought she would need.
“I didn’t realize how deep in the fog I was until that fog started to lift,” Monique says. “When that fog started to lift, it was a humbling and almost cathartic moment for me. I realized I really needed help.”
Monique’s partner, Stacey, played a significant role in pushing her to seek help.
Working as a nurse during the pandemic created significant stress and anxiety for most nurses. This was made apparent to Monique when one of her providers said, “You were a nurse during the pandemic. You worked off of adrenaline for a year. Now everything’s catching up to you.”
Monique’s mental health journey is still a process.
“I still have many forms of anxiety from it,” Monique says. “I still have a lot that I’m still working through.”
Because of Monique’s experiences with mental health, she decided to take her nursing career to the next step and become a nurse practitioner in mental health.
Monique has received recognition for her hard work and dedication in the medical field multiple times. In 2021, Senator Connie Leyva presented Monique with the Terrific 20 of Senate District 20 award. Monique also received the District 61 Assembly Women of Distinction Award in 2022 from Jose Medina, an assembly member representing California’s 61st Assembly District.
Of all Monique’s accomplishments, she is most proud of her success in organizing her strike in 2020.
“When we went on a safe-staffing strike to call out our hospital for unsafe staffing, it was a pivotal moment in my career,” Monique says. “Seeing all my colleagues out there on the strike line for one purpose — patient safety — was so eye-opening for me. Hands down, the most pivotal moment in my career was watching more than 800 nurses go out on strike for the sole purpose of safe staffing.”
With all that is going on in Monique’s life, she finds balance through her partner’s support and by giving herself mental health breaks to avoid burnout.
Though Monique is continuing her nursing career as a nurse practitioner, another future goal for her is to own a coffee shop.
“Other than being a nurse, that was my best job: being a barista,” Monique says. “It was so fun. I loved doing it.”
Monique’s advice to women entering the nursing field is to always prioritize personal and patient safety.
“Self-assess and make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons,” Monique says. “This profession can consume you, but if you get into it for the right reasons, it’s fulfilling.”