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We sat down with Ernesto Perez-Mir, the Chief Nurse Executive of the San Diego Service Area, to hear his story and learn about his journey to Kaiser Permanente.

Please, tell us more about your experience before joining Kaiser Permanente.

During my 30+ years in health care, I’ve earned a wide range of valuable experience. I immigrated to the United States from Cuba in 1989 with limited knowledge of English. In the early 1990s, I became a Nurse’s Aide in New Jersey, and in 1993, I graduated with an associate degree in respiratory therapy (RT). Practicing as an RT allowed me to continue college. My lifelong desire to become a Registered Nurse finally came true in 1998 after I earned an associate of applied science of nursing from Felician College. I further advanced my education with a BSN and MSN in Nursing Education from Mercy College in 2003 and 2008.

My nursing career flourished at New York-Presbyterian Hospital in NYC. Over my 23 years there, I went from an entry-level RN to Chief Nursing Officer at NYP-Brooklyn Methodist Hospital. As an accomplished nurse leader, my teams achieved above-benchmark scores in quality, engagement, and patient satisfaction indicators. In 2017, I graduated with a Doctor of Nursing Practice in Executive Leadership from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. My research explored the impact that caring and compassion fatigue have on direct caregivers. I moved to Kaiser Permanente San Diego this year and am both excited and humbled to lead the Nursing department forward, with the intention of learning, growing, and developing together with my exceptional colleagues.

How did you become interested in health care?

As a teenager in Cuba, I brought dinner to two of my elder brothers who were the MDs on-call at the local hospital. My mom would cook dinner and every three days I rode my bike to the hospital to bring them food. During these visits, I observed procedures and asked questions about the care and treatments patients were receiving. One thing that stood out to me was how quickly doctors conducted their rounds. I kept thinking about the patients managing their own traumatic situations after the doctors left. That’s when I noticed how much time the nurses spent with patients, providing guidance and support. Looking back, that experience along with my interest in the sciences — including anatomy and physiology — sparked my interest to pursue a career in health care.

What attracted you to Kaiser Permanente?

Two years ago, I obtained my California RN license with the hopes of moving closer to my family in San Diego. At that time, I explored a role with Kaiser Permanente in Northern California. As luck would have it, in 2022 I was approached via LinkedIn by Kaiser Permanente’s talent acquisition team. One trip to Kaiser Permanente San Diego solidified my desire to be part of this amazing team. I did my research and knew they were one of the foremost health care institutions in the world with a unique and integrated total care model. The more I interacted with the team, the more I saw the incredible fit between Kaiser Permanente’s values and my own.

What single project or task would you consider your most significant career accomplishment to date?

Leading my team during the first waves of the pandemic tops my list. In early 2020, New York City became the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic. The constant influx of patients during the height of the pandemic created unprecedented challenges to the health care system. We successfully utilized nurses as clinical advisors in an inter-professional COVID-19 crisis command center. By doing so, we facilitated the best possible decisions around nursing leadership and advocacy, capacity, and staffing. We were quick to develop and implement an innovative care model, clinical training, and upskilling while also maintaining the safest possible environment for our patients and team members.

Due to this work, in May of 2021, I was invited to share key learnings and adaptive strategies at the Pan American Health Organization: International Nurses Day “Contributions of Nurses to the COVID-19 Pandemic in the Regions of the Americas.” It was an honor to represent my team at such a prominent event, and to discuss how supporting and empowering nurses was a critical component to our successful response.

Is there something you would like to share with the San Marcos community?

On my way to San Marcos Medical Center, I stopped and chatted with a few patients at the medical office building next door to the new hospital. One message that came across abundantly clear was how inconvenient it was for patients to travel 40 or 50 minutes to visit our two hospitals down south. We know that having easy access to comprehensive, quality health care services is important for promoting and maintaining health. We’re thrilled to open in early August a brand-new, state-of-the-art hospital that will deliver acute care, labor & delivery, surgical, emergency, and intensive care to over 180,000 members in North County. I know our patients are filled with anticipation and joy about the opening of this new facility. All this innovative work would not have been possible without Kaiser Permanente’s mission to provide high-quality, affordable health care services to all the members and the communities we serve.

What’s one word to describe your experience working at Kaiser Permanente?

Since starting in mid-April, I’ve had so many positive experiences and interactions! It’s difficult to narrow this all down to one word. The genuine joy shown by the Kaiser Permanente team as they carry out their day-to-day responsibilities is palpable. The levels of engagement and passion are extraordinary. Everyone has gone out of their way to make sure I feel welcome. They’ve taken the time to answer my questions in a friendly and caring way. My nursing team is driven, resourceful, and eager to jump in and help. It’s clear that they work exceptionally hard to not only improve nursing practice, but they also constantly look for ways to improve our approach.

The one word that best describes my experience is “supportive”. A supportive work culture begins with a supportive senior leadership team. I’ve felt supported by the whole team since day one, and witnessed how employees at Kaiser Permanente created a supportive culture by helping one another. This culture has helped staff members stay motivated to take on new challenges and opportunities. When we support each other, incredible things can happen. I know we will be able to accomplish many great things together, and my overall experience has been fantastic and beyond my expectations.

How would you describe your hiring and preboarding experience?

Moving across the country from the East Coast was not an easy decision. I had lived in the same neighborhood in NYC for 20+ years. The Kaiser Permanente preboarding team made me feel welcome and they also went the extra mile to make sure the whole process was smooth by anticipating every need. They facilitated all the logistics of the relocation process and checked in at least once a week to follow up on the plan. When I came to the office, I had computer access within a few minutes of arrival, and a “meet and greet” had already been scheduled with key members of the team. Everyone was friendly and offered their cell phone number in case I had further questions. The whole process has been seamless and wonderful, and I’m so impressed by the talent acquisition team.

What is different about Kaiser Permanente nursing?

During my rounds, a question I frequently ask is, “What keeps you working at Kaiser Permanente?” A consistent answer I hear from nurses is that they’ve stayed here for a long time because of their sense of belonging. Kaiser Permanente has developed a culture where nurses are empowered to make decisions about their practice and clinical environments. I’ve witnessed the willingness of the nursing team to embrace new ideas and projects.

At the heart of the Kaiser Permanente Nursing Professional Practice Model is the patient and family. Every nurse I’ve encountered has a genuine desire to help and is committed to caring. This is a unique time for the health care industry; and nurses are perfectly positioned to influence the way caring and healing is delivered. It’s evident that nursing at Kaiser Permanente is a vibrant community vested in providing exceptional nursing care to every patient, every time. The robust regional and national professional practice structure provides the framework to continuously elevate nursing excellence to new heights.

Learn more about our new San Marcos Medical Center. You’ll see how you can join our team as we all work together to revolutionize health care in Southern California.

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