In a world that increasingly requires multitasking as a key to success, Violeta Lewis is a powerhouse of varied activity. Her quest for knowledge has led her to pursue studies in fields as diverse as physical and biological anthropology, forensics and pediatric nursing. She is fluent in English, Spanish and French. Along the way, she built a resume that has spanned the financial sector, restaurant management, the legal world and both the clinical and academic rigors of nursing. Now, as the Mayor of La Puente, a bedroom community of 45,000 in east Los Angeles County, she daily puts to work the administrative skills she gained in the UA Master of Science Nursing (MSN) Clinical Systems Leadership program. She divides the rest of her time between her work as a fulltime nursing faculty member at Rio Hondo College and as a resource pool pediatric nurse at Adventist Health. And that’s not counting her extracurricular roles as a wife and mother.
How does she balance it all? We caught up with Mayor Lewis recently to hear more about her diverse life and career.
What led you to pursue a career in nursing?
I was a hospital volunteer when I was 15 years old. I have travelled different avenues in terms of education and career but that was an impactful, pivotal experience in my life. When I was looking to change careers, I reflected on it and thought, ‘I want to go into nursing because that was such a positive experience.’
What led you to enroll in the UA Master of Science Nursing (MSN) Clinical Systems Leadership program?
At the time, the hospital I work for was looking to hire someone with an MSN. That springboarded me to the UA program, because their leadership said I could have the job, but only if I finished my degree. They wanted to breed leadership from within. The UA attracted me because it gave me a rounded background and lot more options. I could go into hospital management or education.
“I was a hospital volunteer when I was 15 years old. I have travelled different avenues in terms of education and career but that was an impactful, pivotal experience in my life. When I was looking to change careers, I reflected on it and thought, 'I want to go into nursing because that was such a positive experience." ~ Violeta Lewis, MSN, RN, CPN, Mayor of La Puente, CA
What drew you to pediatric nursing?
I love children. I felt a real connection when I was in school doing my rotations. I identified with the families, which is important, because it’s not just the child who is the focus. Many times, you’re caring for the family more than the patient. I’m drawn to help with the family challenges, the psycho-social issues, minimizing trauma as much as possible.
What was your experience like when you were working on your MSN at UA Nursing?
The classrooms were intimate enough and even though it was distance learning, I didn’t feel as if I was far. The professors were engaging and personable. They really went out of their way to make sure we felt connected. It worked well around my schedule, but it challenged me and really pushed me forward in a lot of other avenues, especially in my role as mayor. I was actually finishing the program during my first term and found that some of the skills that I learned have helped me not just in my nursing but my political career as well.
How did you become involved in politics?
I was already a nurse before I became involved in the city. At that time, I was on the fringe. I was part of a coalition of concerned citizens, just keeping track of the issues. There was an opening on the city council when the incumbent decided not to run for reelection. My husband convinced me to run, saying, ‘You actually have a lot of positive attributes. You’re a nurse, you’re Latina, you speak Spanish. You’re actually representative of the community even though that’s not your forte in terms of being out in the spotlight.’ I like to work more one-on-one with people, so it was a challenge for me. I decided to put my name on the ballot and see what happened. Many times when people tell you that you’re not going to be successful, that gives you more drive to win. I had to reinvent myself, get more confident, and go door-to-door to meet constituents. I learned how you win in a grassroots campaign: The people have to see you.
What are some of your accomplishments as mayor?
We started a health Fair, both for seniors and the community at large. I started a civic engagement process with local elementary and middle schools. Those are the things that drive me.
How do you juggle all these different responsibilities?
I live by my Outlook Calendar – just kidding. I think the busiest people sometimes are the most organized. You make time for everything. Of course, support from your family is key. My husband and kids are very supportive of what I do. They understand when I have to go to events. That has been part of my personal growth as well, being able to manage all of it. Sometimes you’re scared. You think you don’t have the time, but you do. It motivates you to keep going when you see the positive benefits.