Johanna (Tarlita) Bruner ’84 ADN says her life came into sharp focus the morning of 9/11, when she was head of the emergency department at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City. “That day, I recognized what it really means to be human, and what it means to be compassionate, empathetic and understanding even if you are afraid,” she said. It’s a lesson that prepared Bruner for her role as a nursing school department chair and nurse educator during the time of the coronavirus pandemic.
Bruner felt the call to nursing after witnessing the extraordinary care her husband received before he died in 1976. Already possessing a bachelor’s in home economics, she applied to Mount Saint Mary’s and earned her associate degree in nursing, which she says was life-changing. “I owe it all to Mount,” she says. “Their philosophy and theories, their belief in accountability and compassion – everything I am today, my roots are at the Mount.”
After many years in Los Angeles, Bruner met a New York City architect on a chance trip to Italy, relocated, and began working at Mount Sinai Beth Israel hospital. During the next 19 years, she obtained a master’s to become a family nurse practitioner and served in multiple clinical, management and educational roles. Although she enjoyed direct patient care, Bruner was able to ensure from her leadership positions that quality care was given to all patients. In 2006, she returned to Los Angeles as director of cardiovascular services at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center to be closer to family.
Bruner sees a lot of parallels to her experience on 9/11 and what nurses are currently facing in this pandemic. “The pain, the grief, the fear, it’s all the same,” says Bruner, now a professor and chair of the nursing department at Cal Southern University in Irvine. Her message is one of resilience. “I tell my students, ‘Embrace how difficult this year has been, but you didn’t turn your back and walk away. You walked right into that fire,’” she says. “You might have been terrified, but that kind of courage, that kind of confidence — take all of that and meld it together to be the human you want to be, not just the nurse, the human.”
It’s a message she hopes everyone takes to heart. “Times like this allow us to recognize our shared humanity,” she says. “I hope everyone will take just a fraction of those lessons and live that as they go forward.”
Note: Bruner has been featured on Spectrum News 1.