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Family tragedy inspires mental health nurse

Vivian Buccino, RN, has carried life experiences — including the loss of her son — into her work as a charge nurse at South Oaks Hospital. She earned Northwell Health’s inaugural Nurse of the Year President’s Award.

Vivian Buccino's voice energizes when she speaks about her family, especially her three grandchildren. Family and values mean everything, and she's constantly tried to steer them from right and wrong.

Those standards have been engrained in her since her childhood in Panama, where her grandmother instilled the mantra: "The only way you lose is if you quit." And she has lived by those words in her personal life and her career as a registered nurse at South Oaks Hospital.

An unthinkable loss

Her "never give up" attitude was evident when she endured the unthinkable, losing her son, Michael, in a car accident involving a drunk driver in November 2006.

"We belong to a club that has no name," she said. "If you are a child and lose your parents, you are an orphan. If you lose your spouse, you are a widow. But there isn't a name for parents who lose children."

Shattered, Ms. Buccino resigned from her nursing position in Good Samarian Hospital's medical/surgical unit and took a year off to grieve her son's death. To this day, she believes Michael remains with her and guides her through personal and professional challenges.

For example, when she was ready to reenter nursing, Ms. Buccino had offers for two positions. She looked above for help.

"I was driving to South Oaks, and I had a mental conversation with Michael," she said. "I asked him to give me a sign for which job to take."

The sign came moments later, when she encountered a former employee of the facility that made the other offer. "We started talking," Ms. Bucccino said. "She said she left the other facility crying every day. I went outside and called the nurse manager and thanked her for the opportunity."

Making a difference

Ms. Buccino is often reminded that choosing South Oaks was the right choice. Inspired by Michael, she found her true calling in caring for those suffering from behavioral health issues.

At South Oaks, there are scores of stories of her going above and beyond, working collaboratively to find solutions and better outcomes for individuals suffering from an array of mental health and identity issues.

"We celebrate them so they become in touch with who they are," she said. "We encourage transsexual patients to come out to their parents to decrease depression and anxiety. We have patients who are autistic. Some are refugees and have had very traumatic experiences coming to the US. Some were raped. We are picking up the pieces and trying to put them back together."

quotation mark If I go to the mall and see these kids working…it’s amazing to see how well they are functioning. They came in hopeless and depressed. Some of them go to college. Those are the moments we are proud.
Vivian Buccino, RN

Bullying, a team effort

Bullying is also common in adolescence. Ms. Buccino recently observed signs of the unwanted behavior in her unit. So, she created a safe place for girls to discuss what was bothering them and illuminate the consequences of bullying for the group.

"Eliminating bullying is a team effort," she said. "We alleviate that by making them understand that there are other ways to express anger and hurt without bullying behavior and making fun of others. We don't tolerate that at all."

Proud moments

Ms. Buccino finds her work immensely rewarding because she consistently helps women and girls find their way.

One girl, she said, habitually punched herself in the face to the point of bruising. She liked clown noses and Ms. Buccino and the South Oaks staff deterred the harmful behavior by wearing the red noses and telling jokes.

"She started making progress, just because we decided to wear a clown nose," Ms. Buccino said. "Those are the little things. It's thinking outside of the box."

It's that kind of thinking that helped earn her Northwell Health's 2018 Nurse of the Year President's Award. Ms. Buccino said she was shocked and humbled by the honor because her work is a team effort. And that team's true reward is watching those they treat become productive members of society.

"If I go to the mall and see these kids working…it's amazing to see how well they are functioning," Ms. Buccino said. "They came in hopeless and depressed. Some of them go to college. Those are the moments we are proud."

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