From left to right, Molly Falkner, Sophia Sagert, and Daniel Perdaems
By El Webb

Celebrating Nursing Accomplishments

How UNM College of Nursing Graduates are Making a Difference in New Mexico

Every year during National Nurses Week (May 6-12), nurses are recognized for their service and dedication to caring for others and improving the health of patients.

“Nurses play a vital role to the health care system and contribute to a strong foundation of patient care,” said University of New Mexico College of Nursing Dean Carolyn Montoya, PhD, RN, CPNP. “It is essential that we support our nursing students by providing the most-well rounded, advantageous education possible.”

As the state continues to grow with an aging population, it’s more important than ever to raise up the next generation of nurses with new, innovative educational approaches. The College of Nursing offers several programs, including a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN), a master of science in nursing (MSN), a post-master’s certificate, a doctor of nursing practice (DNP), and a doctor of philosophy (PhD).

Montoya said all College of Nursing education is focused on rural and underserved populations.

“We need nurses that are equipped to serve in diverse communities and take on complex research,” Montoya said. “This is what our programs strive to do.”

In celebration of National Nurses Week, below are three accounts that highlight different facets of the nursing profession.

 A 'Thank You' card for UNM nurses with Molly Faulkner, Sophia Sagert and Daniel Perdaems

Sophia Sagert, RN, BSN

Even as a child, Sophia “Soph” Sagert knew she wanted to pursue a nursing career.

“I was always the kid with a little toy stethoscope and asking for Band-Aids,” she said. “I’ve always been interested in health care and helping others.”

Sagert went on to pursue that dream and graduated from the College of Nursing last year.

“I was a student that was always very engaged,” she said. “My time at the College of Nursing was pretty monumental in terms of my growth into nursing and my growth as a leader, so I’m very, very thankful for it.”

Stepping outside of the classroom was integral to her education, Sagert said.

Her most memorable clinical experience was visiting the Indian Health Service Unit in Chinle, Ariz. There, nursing students were able to immerse themselves in the Diné/Navajo community and gain invaluable real-world experience.

“The trip to Chinle opened my eyes to a world outside of the health care system that I’m so familiar with,” she said. “It was astonishing to see how community-based they were. That’s something you don’t see a lot.”

During the trip, Sagert said she and the other nursing students provided a vaccine clinic, as well as learned from local health providers, including those who practice traditional medicine.

“At the hospital, they had areas where they could do their traditional healing,” Sagert said. “They have such a different way of viewing health and the body.”

After graduating, Sagert began working at the adult medical intensive care unit at UNM Hospital in October.

“It’s been quite the transition, for sure,” she said.

Caring for patients, including helping them meet their physical, social and emotional needs in a conscience and compassionate way, is one of Sagert’s favorite parts of the job.


Sophia Sagert
The patients really rely on you. They’re very vulnerable in a lot of ways, so you’re the one who looks out for them. I just care about people and want the best for them
Sophia 'Soph' Sagert, RN, BSN

“The patients really rely on you. They’re very vulnerable in a lot of ways, so you’re the one who looks out for them,” she said. “I just care about people and want the best for them.”

That responsibility can be stressful. That’s why, Sagert said, it’s important to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Taking time to decompress after a shift, spending time with her family, having a solid support system and checking in with herself are all ways she prevents burnout.

“We are so involved with the patients, and it can be a lot, but it’s important to have your time for you and do the things that you love,” she said. “You have to be able to separate yourself from work.”

Looking ahead, Sagert said she’s excited for the construction of UNM Hospital’s Critical Care Tower, as she wants to work in a cardiovascular intensive care unit.

“That’s my passion; that’s my goal,” she said. “That’s the population I want to work with, so I look forward to transitioning to that new tower.”

Daniel Perdaems, RN, BSN

Daniel “DJ” Perdaems can attest that moving to New Mexico after growing up in Montana would give anyone a big dose of culture shock.

“I didn’t know anybody here when I came down; it was kind of a leap of faith,” he said. “But it all worked out.”

In 2016, Perdaems decided to take advantage of the Western Undergraduate Exchange program, which enables students from select states to enroll at UNM with in-state tuition. 

He knew he wanted to pursue nursing because most of his family members work in health care, and they’ve always encouraged him to follow that career path.

“As a kid growing up, we were immersed in that lifestyle, and so I thought it would be cool to go after a career in health care,” he said. “I like the freedom of nursing – you can do a lot of different things with it, and that’s what drew me to it.”

In 2019, Perdaems received his BSN from the College of Nursing and immediately started working as a nurse. Two of those years, he worked as a traveling nurse.

“It was a lot of fun,” he said. “I was able to go back up to Montana and spend about six months up there.”

A couple of years ago, Perdaems decided to go back to school to become a family nurse practitioner.

Daniel Perdaems
What’s cool about nursing is that if you feel like your career is getting stale, you can challenge yourself and do something different. I wanted to find something that I could see myself doing for years to come
Daniel 'DJ' Perdaems, RN, BSN

“I just needed a transition,” he said. “What’s cool about nursing is that if you feel like your career is getting stale, you can challenge yourself and do something different. I wanted to find something that I could see myself doing for years to come.”

He still has another year left in the MSN program and plans to graduate in May 2024.

“I like having this mix of having class blocks and clinical blocks in the third semester – it’s been awesome,” he said. “What’s really cool about UNM is that we have really rewarding clinical experiences during school.”

One of those rewarding clinical experiences, he said, is working at UNM Truman Health Services, providing gender-affirming care to transgender and gender non-conforming patients.

“For me, it’s super fun and rewarding, and something a lot of nurse practitioner schools don’t offer to practice,” he said. “Truman is such a great learning environment, and it’s an opportunity for me to improve the quality of life for a vulnerable population.”

Overall, Perdaems said he’s really enjoying the program and loves being able to make a difference in people’s lives as a nurse.

“There are good things and bad, but I don’t ever regret going into it,” he said. “It’s so interesting and it’s set me up in a place I’d never thought I’d be.”

Molly Faulkner, PhD, CNP, LISW, APRN-BC

Always looking for the next challenge, Molly Faulkner has educationally and professionally pursued every health care discipline that’s ever interested her.

Her interdisciplinary career as a registered nurse, clinical social worker and nurse practitioner spans over 40 years – and she doesn’t have any interest in retiring anytime soon.

“I think I’ve kept myself going because I could see that I’ve had an impact, and that that impact has been positive,” Faulkner said. “People always ask me why I stopped being a nurse and stopped being a social worker, but I never stopped – I take all of those skills and put it all together in who I am.”

Faulkner received a nursing degree from the University of Oklahoma in 1982, and a master’s degree in social work from New Mexico Highlands University in 1992.

“I’m always wanting to learn more,” Faulkner said. “Getting my bachelor’s in nursing gave me so many life skills – and you can do so much with it.”

In 2002, she received her master's in nursing, her doctorate in nursing in 2013, and then a post master's certificate as a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner in 2022 – all of which were from UNM.

Molly Faulkner
In my heart, I really love working with people in times of need. People just need to know that somebody is out there to help them
Molly Faulkner, PhD, CNP, LISW, APRN-BC

“I was always practicing in psychiatry, so I really felt like getting that certificate was the cherry on top, because that’s who I am – I’m a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner,” Faulkner said. “In my heart, I really love working with people in times of need. People just need to know that somebody is out there to help them.”

Despite her various interests, Faulkner’s passion has always been in behavioral health care for children and young adults. She worked as a social worker for New Mexico Children, Youth & Families Department, and then as a family nurse practitioner at the UNM Children’s Psychiatric Center, working in adolescent psychiatry, where she also served as the center’s assistant medical director.

“I saw tons and tons of kids with a lot of different issues,” Faulkner said. “At UNM, sometimes we’re the only facility that can manage very seriously ill children.”

Faulkner said her family history of mental health disorders, including a grandfather who died of suicide before she was born, got her interested in emotional, psychological and social well-being.

“I initially got interested in behavioral health because I could see how it impacted people differently,” she said. “I’ve also always been interested in what’s underneath peoples’ behavior – I was curious about that from a very early age.”

Last summer, Faulkner decided it was time to take some extended time off to travel the world with her husband. The couple visited Italy and France last fall before coming back home to celebrate the holidays with family.

“I feel like I worked so hard for so many years, and I loved it, but I told myself I needed to see the world and stretch myself in different ways,” she said. “The last nine months or so have been wonderful – but I still don’t know if I’ll ever fully retire.”

When she and her husband return from Istanbul and South Africa this fall, she plans to provide telehealth psychiatric services out of her own clinic, as well as dabble in some teaching and health sciences writing.

“I’m trying to allow myself some freedom, but still keep myself in it, because I love it – I’m a curious cat,” she said. “I keep wondering what I’m going to do next.”

Categories: College of Nursing, Community Engagement, News You Can Use