New Jersey Nurse Leader Offers Guiding Hand


Veronica Onwunaka, 50, is a native of Imo State in Nigeria. She migrated to the United States in 1990 in search of the American dream. Prior to coming to the United States, she studied nursing in her native Nigeria, training at Lagos University Teaching Hospital. A divorced mother of four children, she earned her bachelor’s degree in nursing in 2009 from Jacksonville University in Florida.

With four teenagers, life can often be a juggling act. “I enjoy spending time with my children,” says Onwunaka, “but as a single parent I have to be both mom and dad and so I am demanding because I know their lives depend on it. I know they need a strong, steady, guiding hand.”

A good nurse leader also needs a strong, steady, guiding hand, and as director of nursing at the New Community Extended Care Center, a 180-bed skilled nursing facility owned and operated by New Community Corporation in Newark, N.J., she provides a constant source of guidance and direction.

“I believe that nurses have the ability to affect change in nursing practice,” she said. “I also know that in order for nurses to take a lead in advancing healthcare, they have to possess the educational qualifications needed to do so. For this reason, supporting nurses to continue their education is a priority in my leadership role at New Community.”

Currently, the 11 nursing assistants working under Onwunaka are enrolled in different nursing schools; some are becoming licensed practical nurses while others are entering registered nurse programs. Six of her licensed practical nurses are in different nursing schools aspiring to become registered nurses, while three of her registered nurses are in school pursuing bachelor’s degrees. All have expressed their intention to remain employed with New Community Extended Care Center. Between 2004 to present, six nursing assistants who worked with Onwunaka have become licensed practical nurses, all sponsored by New Community. Two Catholic nuns passed their state boards as registered nurses while remaining on her staff, and one of her nursing supervisors is also in school at Kean University studying for her master’s degree.

Leading by example, Onwunaka is currently pursuing a Master’s in Healthcare Administration. Onwunaka’s leadership skills extend beyond the workplace as she continues to engage outside organizations to address healthcare issues. She is a member of the New Jersey Association Directors of Nursing Administration and the Nigerian Nurses Association. She is also vice president of five of the seven Nigerian cultural organizations to which she belongs. She serves as a mentor to the Nigerian Nurses Association and has been an advocate of bringing domestic violence awareness to Nigerians in the diaspora following the death of seven Nigerian nurses in 2007. Another association of which she is a member purchased medical supplies and over-the-counter medications for a small health center in her native village to help monitor, treat and maintain the health of people there.

 “Being a nurse has been very rewarding and fulfilling,” she said. “Being the Director of Nursing in a facility for over 20 years that serves the inner-city poor has given me the opportunity to mentor many nurses, including those just starting out in the profession. It is a good feeling to know that I have played a role in helping nurse colleagues prepare for the future.”

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by New Jersey Action Coalition | April 10, 2014

Tags: education, leadership, new-jersey

Kenneth Primeaux

My name is Kenneth Primeaux Jr. I am an African American male nursing student at Rutgers School of Nursing in New Jersey. After reading this article, I must say that it was truly inspiring. As I caught a glimpse into the life of Veronica Onwunaka R.N. I became more motivated about my nursing career. It truly amazes me that even with the hardship of raising her children on her own, she still surpassed all of the hardships and succeeded with great rapport. I can relate to her in many ways. Having to manage my responsibilities when there doesn't seem to be enough time to do anything. As I continued to read, I became even more astonished because not only did she conquer her mission of becoming a Registered Nurse, but she also takes the time out of her schedule to help other individuals; not just patients. It is very evident that people like Onwunaka R.N are very hard to come by at this day in age. It's truly people like this that provide me the opportunity to advance in life ,due to there guidance and inspiration. In virtue of, Onwunaka R.N., I will make a commitment to myself that once I complete my Registered Nurse program at Rutgers, I will make sure that I will give back to anyone who is willing to accept guidance, advice, help, etc. After all, nursing is consider the most honest and trustworthy profession in the world today. From Onwunaka R.N journey to my future endeavors, I just want to say thanks for leading the way for the small people like Kenneth Primeaux Jr.
Posted on: May 8, 2014, 10:55 am

Andrea Earley

My name is Andrea Earley and I am also a nursing student in the accelerated BSN program at Rutgers University. I too, am extremely inspired by this story of Veronica Onwunaka. Before joining this program, I was a little unsure if I wanted to be a nurse. I knew I wanted to be in the medical field, but wasn’t sure if nursing was right for me. Prior to starting the nursing program, I was a PCA on an oncology floor at a hospital in Arlington, VA. There were two nurses, one old and one new, who both really sparked something in me to become a nurse. I watched them interact with their patients and co-workers and really saw them change people’s lives. It was incredible! From that point on, I knew I had to start an accelerated nursing program, so I could quickly start such fulfilling career. Those two nurses were such an inspiration to me, as Veronica Onwunaka has been to her community and other young nursing novices. Having such positive role models in the nursing field is such a great attribute to have. I hope that all of us upcoming nurses can continue to keep the positivity, passion, and hard work at high levels, no matter how big the hurdles are that life may throw at us. Thank you, Veronica (and my two nurses!) for keeping us inspired and truly being amazing nurses. I hope one day I can be an inspiration to someone, too!
Posted on: July 2, 2014, 3:39 pm

Catherine Ode

My name is Catherine Ode and I am a nursing student at Rutgers University in Newark. Like Veronica Onwunaka, I am also from Nigeria and because of this her story touches me personally. I have many nurses in my family including my father, mother, sister, uncle, and many cousins. Although nursing is an honorable career, I have heard many negative stories about nursing as whole from my family members. This made me extremely apprehensive to pursue a second degree in this field. After quite some time and disagreements with my family, I decided that I wanted to become a nurse. Stories like Veronica’s make me feel that I have made the right choice. Through Veronica, I can see that nursing is indeed an honorable and fulfilling career. I too would like to go to Nigeria and help make a positive difference in the healthcare setting. I believe that starting small (i.e., providing medical supplies to villages) is an incredible beginning and can most assuredly save many lives. Many individuals in the healthcare profession do not realize the great impact that they can have on people in America and also abroad. I want to be the nurse that goes above and beyond for my patients and for my colleagues. Veronica Onwunaka has touched many lives and has inspired me to be the best that I can be as a nursing student and as a future nurse. Going back to Nigeria and making a difference as a nurse is my ultimate goal. For now, I plan to touch the lives of my patients and colleagues through positivity, encouragement, and hard work. Thank you Veronica Onwunaka for sharing your story, it has opened my eyes to the endless possibilities and connections that the field of nursing has to offer. Catherine Omolara Ode.
Posted on: July 6, 2014, 6:47 pm

Danielle Dorilus

My name is Danielle Dorilus and I am a nursing student in the accelerated BSN program at Rutgers University. Similar to Veronica, I too am from a third world country. Reading about Veronica’s journey has truly inspired to become a nurse that provides quality care, furthers my education and contribute to the growth of the nursing practice. As I read the article one of the comments that stuck out to me was, “I believe that nurses have the ability to affect change in nursing practice,” she said. “I also know that in order for nurses to take a lead in advancing healthcare, they have to possess the educational qualifications needed to do so.” As I learn more and more about evidence based practice I realize that we need to make furthering our education a top priority in order to make this form of practice possible. We will in an ever-changing world and education is key to remain current will the latest studies, policies, procedures, skills, and technologies. All nurses act as an advocate and in order to do so it is necessary to well-rounded and highly competent. Like Veronica, I want to take on an active role in changing the lives of others. My mother and I have went to Haiti and donated clothes and provided food to the needy from time to time. After I become a nurse I would like to go back and provide clinical services. One of my goals is to take part in nurses without borders, so like Veronica I can give back to patients who truly need as much help as they can get. Summer 2011, I worked with a doctor in Newark on a research project based on disparities among poor minorities. This experience created a strong desire within me to help address disparities among the disadvantaged. Reading stories like this encourages me to continue climbing the later of success. Hopefully one day I too can say I am the Director of Nursing in a facility that serves the inner city poor.
Posted on: July 7, 2014, 3:12 pm

Esther Beh

My name is Esther Beh and I am currently attending an Accelerated BSN program in Rutgers University Newark Campus. I was born in South Korea and I moved to the United States in 1990 in search for a better life. Nursing is my second degree. My first degree was fashion merchandising, and I had no background in any science fields whatsoever. In my mid 30s, I wanted a drastic change and I wanted to do something more meaningful in my life. So, I decided to jump into a nursing career. The journey of becoming a nurse wasn’t easy. I had to take a year off from the nursing program because I got pregnant. I guess life is full of surprises, sometimes good, and sometimes bad. Having a child completely changed my life, and learning to be a new mom wasn’t easy. My daughter is definitely a blessing in my life. After I read this article, I must say that Ms. Onwunaka is truly an inspiration as a mom, a nurse, and a leader in this community. I think raising 4 children as single mom, and juggling full time nursing job, while doing additional community work is definitely an accomplishment. I can’t agree more with Ms. Onwunaka when it comes to continuing education for nurses. I remember 20 years ago when my cousin had a gallstone, they surgically had to cut open and remove the stone. Today, the same procedure is done with only a tiny incision to get a surgical tube to go in and remove the stone. So, the medical field definitely evolved a lot in the past couple decades, and it will keep evolving. It’s our job as nurses to keep up with the new medical technology and skills in order to give our patients the best quality care.
Posted on: July 9, 2014, 5:51 pm

Judyann Taveras

My name is Judyann Taveras–Burgos and I am currently enrolled in the second-degree part time BSN program at Rutgers University. As many of the previous commentators, I too find Ms. Veronica Onwunaka's story inspirational. She must have undergone so many obstacles to continue her education. It is nice to read about nurses who motivate other individuals to pursue higher education. Ms. Onwunaka states, “in order for nurses to lead in advancing healthcare, they have to possess the educational qualifications needed to do so.” I agree with her statement; medicine is continuously evolving and it is important for nurses to be aware of these new changes. In order for individuals to pursue higher education sometimes they need someone that can motivate them; someone who can remind them the importance of education. The article states that “a good nurse leader also needs a strong, steady, guiding hand…”. Nurse leaders are a great resource that can motivate their staff to continue their education. I do hope that when I begin my nursing career that I can also continue my education. Ms. Onwunaka’s participation in the Nigerian Nursing Associations motivates other Nigerians to pursue a higher education. I also hope that I can influence another person to continue their education. I believe that participating in your culture's organizations has a big impact. I hope to participate in a Latino cultural organization once I become a nurse. I feel that as minorities it is important to motivate and educate each other. The obstacles that minorities have to overcome are like no other. It is fantastic to find minorities that better themselves. As the only Latina student in my class, I find it difficult to find individuals that I can relate to. I have had the privilege to meet a Latina Professor who has been an inspiration for me just like Ms. Onwunaka has been an inspiration to her staff. The nursing community needs more individuals who are willing to motivate others to better themselves. Ms. Onwunaka, thank you for your service as a nurse as well as sharing your story; you are truly an inspiration to the nursing community.
Posted on: July 14, 2014, 1:16 pm

Kate Lavinio

Nursing is not just about taking care of patients and getting a job done. It is about effecting change and growth of the nursing practice to provide care in the very best way possible. It is constantly evolving and requires nursing personal to grow and evolve as well. As a current student and new member of the nursing community, I find it truly empowering to see individuals such as Veronica Onwunaka encouraging and promoting the education of others within this community. She sees the value in the investment of education and provides "guidance and direction" for her employees. I feel this is something that is unique to the nursing industry and I can honestly say that it is one of the main reasons I decided to join this field. "Be the change that you wish to see in the world."-- a simple concept that I think about everyday. It is what lead me to make a career change and enroll in nursing school. It is obviously easier said than done, but people like Veronica Onwunaka are giving individuals, like me, the opportunity to be that change.
Posted on: July 15, 2014, 12:31 pm


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