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Answering the Call

by University Relations

Zahira (Rivera ’99) Orioli, PNP ’05, FNP ’12, focuses on one simple goal: keeping kids healthy so they can go to school. As a school nurse in the Chino Valley Unified School District (CVUSD), Orioli discovered that many underserved and uninsured children with significant health problems missed school and performed poorly in the classroom. Determined to stand in the gap for these kids, she applied for and received grants in 2007 to fund the CVUSD Health Center, a comprehensive, free health care clinic for all of the district’s students as well as adolescents under 21 in the community at large.

Orioli’s compassion, creativity, and skills fuel the initiative. Positioned as a hub for health and wellness, the center serves up to 200 patients each month, and to date, approximately 4,000. Studies show that school-based health centers have a positive impact on absences, dropout rates, disciplinary problems, and academic outcomes, according to the California School Health Centers Association.

As the onsite nurse practitioner, Orioli performs general health examinations, acute care, and referrals for outside services, manages the district’s vaccination programs, and reapplies annually for the grants that fully fund the facility. As part of Orioli’s holistic approach, her staff assists uninsured patients with enrollment in Medi-Cal and Covered California. She also hosts free health clinics to create awareness and advertise the center’s services. Not surprisingly, these admirable efforts earned Orioli the district’s 2013 Nurse of the Year Award—an accolade that honors not only her accomplishments, but also her journey.

Orioli first felt a calling to nursing as a teen mom on the receiving end of care. While in the hospital recovering from the birth of her daughter at age 17, Orioli struggled with her youth and the judgment of others. Her attending nurse not only cared for her physically, but also mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. That kindness and attentiveness impacted the course of her life. Within months, Orioli began researching nursing programs, and after completing some courses at a community college, she transferred to APU’s School of Nursing.

Today, she attends to the spiritual well-being of her patients along with caring for their physical and psychological needs, paying forward the holistic approach she received as a new mother. The clinical setting also offers ideal opportunities to share Christ’s love with her patients and their families. When parents hit rock bottom, Orioli prays with them, offers words of encouragement, and discusses support systems, including church. “You can’t take care of one part of the person without taking care of the whole.”

As devoted to her profession as to her patients, Orioli returned to APU for her advanced study, earning a Master of Science in Nursing, as well as a clear credential for school health and a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner Certificate. A few years later, she went back again for her Family Nurse Practitioner Certificate. Now, Orioli teaches Health Assessment at APU and serves as a clinical instructor for the Pediatric Nurse Practitioner program. She also plans to pursue her Doctor of Nursing Practice at APU.

“It was a natural decision to go back to APU for my graduate work. It felt like home to me,” said Orioli, who explains to her students that nursing is a calling.

Orioi’s calling reflects a clear desire to delve deeper into the psychological, social, and spiritual needs of her patients, and the CVUSD Health Center mirrors that intention. Holistic care distinguishes the center’s approach, equally valuing quality of life, patient dignity, and physical care.

Originally published in the Spring '14 issue of APU Life. Download the full issue (PDF).