Alumna shares her virtual care expertise and life experiences to help advance the college’s focus on telehealth education.
By Paula Wheeler
From the medical-themed TV shows she watched during the 1970s, Mary Astor Gomez, Nurs ’82, got the distinct impression that nursing was an exciting and important profession.
She has since confirmed that impression, over the course of a varied career that took her from the neonatal intensive care unit to a pediatric air ambulance and eventually landed her in a multifaceted telehealth role helping patients across the country.
Gomez, who grew up in suburban Chicago, says her mother selected Marquette for her, based solely on the fact that a friend’s son was already a student there.
“It wasn’t until I got there that I learned that the Marquette nursing program was so stellar,” she says. “I’m really grateful that I landed there, and I’m so fortunate to have had a Jesuit education that really formulated who I was to become.”
While at Marquette, Gomez says, she was particularly inspired by her pediatrics professor Dr. Jean Hennessey, who encouraged students to continue to build on their nursing training. “She really espoused that we were only laying the foundation here and that it was up to us to take our careers to the next level,” Gomez says. “She told us, ‘You have to keep learning, all the time — learning never stops.’ Her advice really resonated with me, and I’ve been on a continual path of learning.”
Six months into her first job, as a NICU nurse in Evanston, Illinois, Gomez was back in school to earn her master’s degree in clinical maternal/child health from Loyola University Chicago. She later completed additional postgraduate work there to become a nurse practitioner.
Gomez also served in the U.S. Navy Reserves Nurse Corps and admits, with a laugh, that her career has shared some aspects with that of one famed nurse she regularly watched on TV: Maj. Margaret Houlihan, from the hit show M-A-S-H.
“That show really did formulate several parts of my career, including my military background and my flight background,” she says. “I really wanted to be in a role where I was able to do critical care.”
Her 27 years as a flight ambulance nurse and leader for Chicago’s Children’s Memorial Hospital (now Lurie Children’s Hospital) fulfilled that desire. Gomez later moved to a role in international patient services, helping families of pediatric patients from around the world navigate their children’s care. That’s where she learned about a company called Grand Rounds Health, a provider of remote medical second opinions and other telehealth services. Interested, she applied for and landed a job there as a telehealth nurse.
Gomez knows firsthand just how life-changing this service can be. Through Grand Rounds — now called Included Health — she and her late husband obtained a remote second opinion regarding treatment for his advanced cancer from a specialized Boston-based oncologist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Taking that oncologist’s recommendations for surgery and a clinical trial enrollment, she says, “gave him two additional years of very high-quality life.”
Throughout her career, Gomez has regularly “paid it forward,” informally helping nursing and medical students with their resumes, interview skills and job searches. When she was asked a year ago to join Marquette’s nurse mentoring network, she was particularly excited about the opportunity to assist up-and-coming Marquette nurses and has already mentored several. She has also been tapped to serve on the College of Nursing’s new telehealth advisory board, which is striving to build a strategic plan for digital care programming, research and curriculum development. (Read related Marquette Telehealth Accelerator story.)
“The pandemic has really highlighted the value of telehealth and the value of having care provided in a different way,” Gomez says. “Most of us are so accustomed that you have to be seen in person, and that is still a necessary part of the whole landscape, but the remote space has a lot of value.”