Joel's Story: Oncology Nurse

Jun 6, 2019

Nurse that heals with a smile and a laugh

Joel Zapata, registered nurse, Good Samaritan Medical Center

Nurse Joel OncologyJoel Zapata was born to be a nurse.

"To me, it is not only what I've learned - not only nursing skills - but I would say life skills," Joel says. "These are things that kind of made me stronger as a person."

For one, he comes from a family of nurses. His mother, aunt and several of his cousins are nurses.

Born and raised in a small town in Puerto Rico, Joel received his degree in nursing. Not long afterward, he jumped at the chance to practice his trade in Connecticut at a veteran’s hospital.

"Then when I moved to Florida, I worked on the oncology floor, which kind of turned me around completely," Joel says. "It was like a different environment, different population, and I kind of saw the purpose of what they were doing."

A year ago, Joel transferred from the oncology department to medical Intensive Care Unit. He is proud of his work at oncology and remembers how it helped him grow as a nurse and a person.

"I think that when I started working in oncology it grounded me because I saw so many different ways of how people struggle through life," he says.

Making an impact

Joel is often called by his co-workers the Patch Adams of nursing, referring to the physician and activist made famous by using humor and positivity in an effort to lift the spirits of unhappy patients.

He has earned a reputation for goofing around with patients, always trying to add that extra touch and inspire them with confidence in their treatment. For his positive attitude and hard work, he was named Good Samaritan's 2013 Oncology Nurse of the Year.

While Joel will go out of his way to entertain and cheer up his patients, he also understands there's a necessary toughness in treating people.

What Joel likes most about working at Good Samaritan as a nurse for the last decade is the mystery of what tomorrow will bring.

"Even though it is the same environment every single patient is different," Joel says. "When I was working in the oncology department we had breast cancer patients. Even though each patient came with the similar diagnosis, they all had a different background."

While Joel will never know what tomorrow will bring, he does know he’ll approach it with the same smile that’s touched the lives of so many.

Joel's story in the news

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GSMC Super Nurse