Childhood Illness Sparks Passion for Nursing

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Cheryl Gambacorta keenly remembers the extended time she spent in the hospital as a 5-year-old seriously ill with pneumonia. What stuck with her most of all was the care she received from the nurses.

“I always wanted to care for people,” she said. “I never lost that while I was growing up.”

She attended nursing school at D’Youville College, graduating in 1984. Gambacorta worked at Buffalo General Hospital from graduation until 1988, eventually on the medical teaching telemetry floor.

“I loved to coach and teach the new doctors and medical students,” she said. “I was learning and becoming more established. I loved teaching them the basics of the compassion to take care of those patients.”

She eventually earned her bachelor’s degree in nursing and began working at Visiting Nursing Association (VNA) of Western New York in Williamsville, where she became director of clinical operations in 2011. A lot has changed since she began with VNA.

“When I came here, home care was very different,” she said. “The patients were in the hospital and by the time they came home, they were very stable. It was about teaching them about diseases and doing wound treatment. From a clinical perspective, they were stable and did well.”

Nowadays, nurses’ focus is on helping patients prevent re-admission. Gambacorta said that she feels “very proud of what we do to work together from our facilities to our teams and branches and clinicians.

“We do a great job at working with hospitals in keeping people in their homes. From a nursing perspective, these clinicians are top-notch.”

VNA’s social workers also help ensure patients have the resources they need, such as private aides, Meals on Wheels and other programs that can help people stay at home longer.

“The best part of my day is when I’m conferencing and problem solving to keep patients home,” Gambacorta said. “Even our high-risk people.”

She added that she also likes to look at clinicians’ potential and see what she can do to help them grow.

To stay up-to-date, Gambacorta has taken courses through Kaleida Health, which she calls “phenomenal.” She also reads many articles related to nursing and leadership.

“I came in never thinking I’d stay in this field of nursing but I’ve grown to love taking care of patients in their home in the community,” she said.

She added that nursing offers many opportunities for advancement and learning.

“If someone is interested in nursing, it’s really about giving back,” Gambacorta said. “It’s always been for me about giving it my all, knowing what’s important to the person you’re caring for and knowing how best you can care for them and guide them and supporting family members that are caring for patients. It’s also where you fit in in health care because there are so many avenues.”

These could include education, administration and management and hands-on care at hospitals or independent health care providers, schools, clinics or other organizations.

“If you have that heart-felt passion to take care of patients, you will find your way through and find something that really means something to give back and helps you feel good,” Gambacorta said. “You have to feel good at the end of the day.

“It’s such a good feeling when you make a difference and you discharge them from at-home care into the hands of their regular doctor.”

Gambacorta and her husband, Philip, live in Williamsville and have two daughters. Gambacorta has volunteered with a local food bank and with the Summit Foundation, SABAH Foundation and Kevin Guest House. She enjoys making crafts and spending time with her family.

In 1993, the American Nurses Association declared May 6-12 as the national week to celebrate and elevate the nursing profession.

National Nurses Week is a time for everyone — individuals, employers, other health care professionals, community leaders and nurses — to recognize the vast contributions and positive impact of America’s 4 million registered nurses. Each year, the celebration ends on May 12, Florence Nightingale’s birthday. Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing.