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Lifelong Calling to Nursing, Leadership, and Mission

Shezel O’Neal, AdventHealth Celebration

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Shezel O’Neal has known since childhood exactly what she wanted to do in life – help bring babies into the world. It’s all she ever wanted to do as a child. She walked into AdventHealth Orlando at 6 years old when her baby brother was born and found her life’s calling.

“I went to the nursery window and was fascinated by the nurses working with the babies,” she said. “Neither of my parents worked in healthcare nor enjoyed the hospital environment, but they were supportive of me pursuing my passion. Ever since that first day on the obstetrical unit, I felt like I belonged in a hospital.”

Shezel O’Neal  and AdventHealth Celebration team member

That feeling didn’t go away. When Shezel entered high school at 14 years old, she wanted to volunteer in the hospital. When she went in for the interview, Shezel explained she wanted to work in the OB and help with the babies. The volunteer coordinator explained that it was challenging to get clearance to volunteer in the unit because of the extra security to keep infants and moms together. But Shezel’s persistence inspired an OB nurse on the unit to take her under her wing and allow her to volunteer.

Shezel’s dream of becoming an OB volunteer continued throughout high school, and after graduation, she found other health care-minded students at AdventHealth University and became a nurse. One of her early roles was in the labor and delivery unit at AdventHealth Celebration.

In just a few years, Shezel made the transition into a leadership role as a charge nurse, and in about ten years, she was the director of Women’s and Children’s Services. She then had leadership responsibility of the Emergency Department and Inpatient Nursing a few years after that. Throughout this process, she went back to school to get a master’s in nursing, then a DNP – a doctorate in nursing practice with a focus on executive leadership. Shezel received tuition reimbursement from AdventHealth for both these degree programs.

“I loved leadership development,” said Shezel, who now serves as executive director of nursing at AdventHealth Celebration. “Even in my first leadership role as a charge nurse, I got that spark of building professionalism and credibility. You can make the organization better as a leader. I liked the way I could make a difference with the nurses at the end of the day.”

It's been harder to keep the spark alive during the past few years of the COVID pandemic. The landscape of nursing has changed. Nurses have new options, and the workforce has become more transient. Shezel experiences the same feelings of pandemic burnout as the bedside nurses, and has developed coping techniques.

“Nurses say they are exhausted, and some say they don’t want to do this anymore,” she said. “Some days, I go home feeling defeated too. But for me, I find that burnout, at its core, is a lack of purpose in my work. When I’m feeling burned out, I go to a unit. I talk to the nurses. I ask them, ‘What barrier can I help you with today?’ If I can make a front-line nurse’s day better, I can reconnect with my purpose, and it lessens my burnout.”

Even when she feels overwhelmed, Shezel is optimistic about the future of nursing, and always finds new hope through the mission of AdventHealth: Extending the Healing Ministry of Christ. Shezel said it wasn’t until she became a patient that she truly understood the gift a nurse gives.

“In 2006, I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and went through treatment at three AdventHealth campuses,” she recalled. “There were times I felt hopeless, and they gave me hope. I felt the compassion of our staff as I had surgery and radiation treatments. That experience changed me into a patient-centric clinician – focusing on the patient’s needs instead of just being the clinical expert.”

Shezel has seen AdventHealth’s mission come alive at some of the happiest and most trying times in her life as an employee and a patient.

“I became a nurse, a mom to three children, and a cancer survivor, all at AdventHealth. I am fortunate and grateful to be a part of this team.”

To learn more about growing your career at AdventHealth University, please visit ahu.edu.

AdventHealth team members can learn more about AdventHealth’s resources to enable your career growth, including Debt-Free Educational Assistance options, at Team Member Central - Home (sharepoint.com)

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