OKLAHOMA CITY -- For Mary Malaska, nursing isn't a job but a way of life. The OSU-Oklahoma City Health Sciences associate professor wanted to be a nurse since childhood. Her commitment and passion to the field is most likely what led to her being named the Nurse of the Year by the Integris Baptist Hospital Maternal/Newborn Child Unit.
Malaska has worked at Baptist off and on since 1979. She started out in pediatrics, moved to the pediatric intensive care unit and ended up in the maternal/newborn child unit.
"Taking care of moms and babies is just amazing," the Oklahoma City native says. "Some days I leave work really and truly believing it is such a privilege to be a nurse. Some of the folks you take care of are like family."
She says receiving the Nurse of the Year award is extremely humbling. To be named Nurse of the Year, she was nominated by her peers and manager. When she first heard the news, she thought it was a joke.
"I thought they were pulling my leg," she admits. "Then I checked my email… I'm not there that often, so it really is just very humbling."
As part of the award, Malaska's picture will be on display at the hospital, she will be honored at a reception and she will be invited to serve on the Council of Nursing Excellence.
"The Council of Nursing Excellence is a shared governance group," she explains. "It is quite an honor since the committee provides the opportunity to impact all aspects of patient care."
Nursing caught Malaska's attention early in her childhood. Several people in her family were nurses including her godmother, who Malaska calls a "big influence."
"I always wanted to be a nurse – without a question," she admits. "I never had a second thought because there wasn't one."
Malaska sees nursing as a profession that has endless options. "If you want to take care of healthy people, you can do that. If you only want to take care of kids, you can do that. There are so many different avenues. It's the one profession where you can have it all."
As an OSU-OKC nurse science graduate, Malaska enjoys that the program has continuously been held in high regard in the community throughout the years. For the future, she has big hopes for the program's growth.
"I would like to see new nursing programs and am anticipating a Bachelor of Science in nursing," she says. "I am really hopeful that it comes to fruition in the next five years."
When she's not at OSU-OKC or Baptist, Malaska enjoys spending time with her family: her husband of more than 35 years, three daughters – a nurse, a chemist and a rad tech – and two grandchildren. She also is a seasoned marathoner as she has run a 26.2-mile marathon 14 times.
Looking back, she never thought she would qualify to teach but recalls everything falling into place. Malaska began teaching at OSU-OKC in 1996.
"I like thinking that I might have a little bit of influence in the nursing profession," she says. "It's very selfish, but I want them to be able to take care of me one day!"