Sometimes, an action taken – at the time deemed of little significance – leads to profound, even life-changing, consequences. Judy Goforth Parker, a University of Oklahoma College of Nursing alumna who has served as administrator of the Chickasaw Nation Division of Health since 2009, recently recalled two notable examples.
One day a young man approached my desk and told me that he would really like to be a nurse,” she said. “It was late in the enrollment season and most of the classes were filled. I told him a few tricks of the trade for getting in classes, as well as all of the courses that he would have to take in order to get into the program. … [He] followed his adviser’s advice and soon entered into the program and graduated with his degree. He would later repeat that story to others and tell the importance that it had in his life in giving him direction.”
But the best part of Parker’s story is yet to come. “Years later,” she said, “he would be the hospital administrator for the Chickasaw Nation – the position that I currently hold. I watched him advance in his career as a nurse, and eventually he became my mentor, much like I had been his. We are still close friends and see nursing as being the foundation of our careers.”
The other example occurred much earlier in her life and involves her father, who worked as a hospital administrator when Parker was growing up and whom she calls her role model, and her mother, a school teacher – whom, ironically, she says she at first did not consider a role model because Parker did “not” want to be a school teacher.
As the age of 2, the family lived below the old nurses’ quarters at the old Katie Hospital in Denison, Texas. “Maybe those nurses influenced me. I remember my dad giving me my first pair of nursing scissors. As a teenager, I would ask my dad if I could work at the hospital as a nurses’ aid. When I was 16, Dad brought home a red smock for me and told me I would start work that night at 11 p.m. I worked the night shift all that summer. My father figured it would make me or break, and the rest is history!”
Parker’s nursing career was launched in 1976 after earning her bachelor’s degree in nursing from East Central University. Her first jobs were as a staff nurse at Atoka (Okla.) Memorial Hospital and then at Oklahoma Osteopathic Hospital in Tulsa.
But it wasn’t long before she decided that teaching also had to be an integral part of her life.
“In 1979, I was living in Tulsa. I knew that I would get a master’s degree in nursing some day, but when I and my friends read the ad in the paper that OU was going to offer their nursing courses for the master’s program in Tulsa, we jumped at the chance,” she recalled. “I chose an education pathway because I wanted to teach. I was familiar with nurse practitioners because I had worked with pediatric NPs at the Tulsa City County Health Department.”
She earned her master’s degree in nursing from the OU College of Nursing in 1983; in 1992, she added a doctorate of philosophy from Texas Women’s University to her list of accomplishments.
Her career since has involved a combination of nursing, teaching and service to the Chickasaw Nation.
During her career, she has held a variety of positions at the Tulsa County Health Department, St. Anthony Hospital, Midwest City Memorial Hospital, Oklahoma City Community College, and East Central University.
Prior to joining the Chickasaw Nation Division of Health, she enjoyed a 24-year tenure at East Central University, where she taught nursing and community health. During her last five years at ECU, she began teaching classes online and began incorporating information technology components into her teaching, particularly in her community health classes.
Increasingly intrigued with the growing nurse practitioner profession, she returned to OU for further studies, earning her post-master’s certificate as an Advanced Nurse Practitioner in May 2010.
Parker identified Dr. Deborah Booten-Hiser as her mentor in the Advanced NP program. “For years, we discussed the possibility of me attending OU for the NP program,” she said. “Her support was always positive and very encouraging.
“Actually, all of the staff were my mentors,” Parker added. “I loved every class. The faculty at OU are my heroes. They did a wonderful job in preparing me and my classmates to be primary care providers in this changing health care environment.”
Parker says that enrolling in OU’s NP program “was probably the best thing that I could have done at the time to prepare me for the job I now hold as administrator of the Chickasaw Nation Division of Health.”
“Being a provider in our fast track in the Emergency Department helps me to see some of the problems that our patients and providers face from a perspective that is far different than what I would have had previous to my three years in the post master’s certificate program,” she explained. “Timing is everything, and I am thrilled to be an ARNP from the University of Oklahoma. OU has crossed paths with my life at exactly the right times, preparing me for what I am doing as a health care administrator and provider.”
As a member of the Chickasaw Nation, Parker served on the tribe’s legislature for 15 years, also participating on the Tribal Leader’s Diabetes Committee, an advisory group to the Indian Health Service composed of elected officials from tribes across the country.
“I used to say that it was the greatest nursing role that I ever had,” Parker said. “As a community health nurse, I worked with other tribes across the nation to improve the care for Native Americans with diabetes. We also worked on prevention, sharing best practices, new technologies and innovative prevention strategies working with and collaborating with other organizations, such as the National Institutes of Health, National Library of Medicine and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”
A woman of many hats, Parker is a popular workshop leader, has delivered numerous professional presentations, and is a prolific writer, having authored numerous articles, many of them involving Native American nursing and health issues. In June, her latest labor of love, a book titled Dynamic Chickasaw Women, was published by the OU Press. A collaborative effort with Phillip Carroll Morgan, the work features biographies of dynamic women from the histories of Indian Removal, Indian Territory and early Oklahoma statehood.
For the future, Parker plans to continue to with her work with the Chickasaw Nation. She also volunteer in a local clinic one night per month. Her role as a nurse practitioner leaves the future open to many possibilities.
She also plans to continue pursuing her outside interests, which she says include “my church, art and a wonderful family.
Her daughter, Mahate, is finishing her internship with OU and began her first year of OBGYN residency in July. She described her son, Wyas, a graduate of ECU (degree is in mass communications), as “an accomplished musician and song writer,” employed with the Chickasaw Nation in the Division of Education. In addition to being members of the Chickasaw Nation, Parker said her children also are Comanche, descendents of Quanah Parker.
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