Nurses working together to treat patient.
By Nicole San Roman

Need for Nurses

The demand for nursing is high across the nation and New Mexico is no exception. State legislative analysts have estimated there are more than 6,000 nursing slots to fill across New Mexico.

Nurses within the University of New Mexico Health System share stories of how they are both making a difference and inspiring the future of health care in our state.


UNM Hospital

It was only her second shift back in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) at UNM Hospital. After being on leave to have her first child, Poiette Sprague, RN, was easing back into her work routine when a baby was rushed into the PICU.

“I was about to get gowned up, when the attending doctor said ‘No, this can’t be your patient; you can’t take this kiddo.’” Sprague says she was confused, she knew she might be a little rusty just coming back from leave, but she could do it. But the doctor was insistent “She said, ‘No. This is a near drowning and it’s the same age as your girl.’”

It wasn’t an ideal situation for a new mother to take on, but Sprague was determined to help.

“The parents were just so heartbroken, and at that moment we were unsure that the baby would survive the night,” she said.  

As Sprague worked to string up fluids, she heard one parent say, “I can’t believe I left the door open.” Sprague says she stopped what she was doing. “I looked at that parent, I touched them on the shoulder, and I said, ‘Stop. You can't think that. That's in the past. We're going to help you get through this. Let's focus on the future.”

And with those words, the future was exactly what those parents focused on. By taking a moment to talk to them, Sprague had navigated the family towards a critical turning point. With her help, those parents were able to focus on healing and their baby is doing much better now.

It was also in that room, in that encounter when Sprague learned something about herself as a nurse.

“I realized I had grown to a point where I could help that family with what they needed, even if it wasn't medical. That’s the beauty of nursing; it’s an art and a science. And I feel like that’s also the beauty of working at UNM Hospital for a period of longevity because I built my career. I devoted the time to grow here as a nurse and it’s the same environment that helped me become what I needed for the family to help change their life.”


Poiette Sprague, RN UNM Hospital
I realized I had grown to a point where I could help that family with what they needed, even if it wasn't medical. That’s the beauty of nursing; it’s an art and a science.
Poiette Sprague

Sprague started her nursing journey as a student in UNM’s College of Nursing. She always knew she wanted to be a nurse but didn’t know where she wanted to focus. It was during her student rotation when she fell in love with the PICU at UNM Hospital, but it wasn’t because of the tiny patients, at first.

“It was the nurses. I wanted to be like them I wanted to have what they had. They were challenged. They used their minds; they were just amazing. They saw things before it happened and they intervened appropriately. There was an attitude, a culture of continual learning, and mutual respect among all the professions.”

Sprague became a staff nurse in the PICU in 2017, then eventually a charge nurse for the unit during the COVID-19 pandemic. Then after having her daughter, Sprague needed a different challenge, so she became an RN educator for UNM Hospital. That’s what she does now, sharing her knowledge, her experiences and encouraging students to grow their careers at UNM Hospital.

“When I started out, it wasn’t on my radar to look for a Level-I trauma center, or an academic university partnership. It wasn't on my radar to look for a place that had a focus on quality improvement.  You have lots of options. You can choose to work lots of places, but you should choose UNM Hospital because you'll have everything you need throughout every phase of your career,” she said. 

UNM Sandoval Regional Medical Center

Since 1974, caring for patients has been part of the life of Pam Demarest, RN, MSN, MBA. Now the chief nursing officer and chief operating officer of UNM Sandoval Regional Medical Center (SRMC) Demarest has seen a lot throughout her career. She says although much has changed in the world of nursing, the relationship between nurse and patient is at the heart of healing.

Demarest smiles as she says the work at SRMC isn’t like the show Grey’s Anatomy where doctors are at the center of all procedures.

“The bedside nurse really knows about the patient in their most vulnerable state. Nurses are doing a lot of the procedures, giving the medications, really listening to the patient, assessing their pain, making sure to address any issues that come up during the day.

Demarest was a burn and trauma nurse in the 1980’s at UNM Hospital where she confronted patients in the worst moments of their lives.

“As a nurse, I’ve just met you, but I need to maybe give you a bath. I need to be able to look at something that is very personal to you, if it's a wound or I need to ask personal questions.”

She says what ends up making the most difference in the end for patients-- is compassion.

Headshot of Pam Demarest
A patient is going to bond with a person who can connect on a more personal level than with somebody who's the greatest technician in the world. Learning a skill is great, but it’s about the soft skill of being able to listen to a patient, make them feel comfortable and respond to them.
Pam Demarest, CNO/COO UNM Sandoval Regional Medical Center

Now as chief nursing officer and chief operating officer, Demarest plays a vital role in mentoring future nurses.

“Under our CEO’s leadership here at SRMC, we embarked on a journey of implementing a management system which really values input and contributions and problem solving from the frontlines,” Demarest said. “We hire for behaviors. You can teach people skills, but you can’t teach them how to behave.”

Demarest says SRMC looks for problem solvers.

“This is a way of life for staff who come to SRMC.  We want you to tell us what's wrong so that we can look at that issue and solve that problem. We want you to be respectful to one another, and to treat each other with dignity and listen to one another.”

When it comes to the next generation of nurses, Demarest says SRMC is a great place to grow.

‘If you have a plan for your nursing career, it always should start out with medical-surgical nursing and how to take care of a complex medical patient or a complex surgical patient. If you like orthopedics, this is the place to be because we do total joints and we have our Center of Excellence for Orthopedics. We're a Level-3 Trauma Center, so you're going to get to see trauma and you're also going to be able to grow from an entry bedside nurse to develop skills in an emergency department and integrate to ICU. In addition, I think our clinic opportunities are great. We have all the medicine specialties as well as surgical specialties. We have a balanced group of opportunities for anyone who wants to come to work here.”


Click HERE for Career Opportunities at UNM Hospital.

Click HERE for Career Opportunities at SRMC.

Categories: College of Nursing, Community Engagement, Sandoval Regional Medical Center, UNM Hospital