Ruth A. Antonowich has been nursing for 50 years because she likes helping people by “problem solving – taking symptoms and conditions and figuring out what’s wrong and how to fix it.”
Last December, this “very energetic, funny and determined” 75-year-old proved that it’s never too late to fulfill a dream by earning her family nurse practitioner master’s degree online from Saint Joseph’s College.
“I’ve been a nurse forever: 16 years as a licensed practical nurse while raising three children; and 34 years as a registered nurse,” says Antonowich, who lived in Illinois, Florida’s panhandle, South Florida and the U.S. Virgin Islands before moving to Key West in 1996. “This degree lets me have a private practice in Key West, as well as providing relief in clinics throughout the Keys. It’s something I’ve always wanted.”
The path to her dream began in 2010 when she enrolled in the FNP program. “It isn’t so much what you know or what your GPA is, but how tenacious you are,” Antonowich says, who also holds a master’s degree in health care administration. “Someone less strong might not have made it through this very intense program.”
Antonowich has worked in numerous specializations, including surgical, rehabilitation, mental health, substance abuse, charge and admissions. She supported the homeless population in Key West by volunteering with outreach groups, and worked as a consultant developing hospice programs in the Keys and the U.S. Virgin Islands. For approximately 20 years, she provided hospice palliative care in Florida.
“Key West isn’t for everyone. It’s a little town inhabited by real people facing real problems and needing health care,” says Antonowich. “Advanced practice registered nurses are important here because many primary care physicians are leaving the profession. APRNs can order many medications and diagnostic tests, provide preventative health care, and teach patients how to be more self-reliant in managing their chronic illnesses.”
Now that she has that coveted master’s degree and FNP certification, “I want to do some relief work here and also set up a small homeless clinic through my church,” says Antonowich. “I would like to be able to give care in the Bahamas, where they always need nurse practitioners, and perhaps in Scotland, our destination every summer.” She would also like to visit the Patch Adams clinic, the Gesundheit! Institute, to “learn to apply his humor-in-healing approach to my work, especially those facing end-of-life challenges.” Antonowich adds, “I’m always there for new nurses, hoping to be an example of ‘you can do it.’”
by Anne-Marie R. Seltzer