One Nurse’s Journey into Healthcare Leadership
It would have been hard for Daphny Peneza to avoid choosing a serving profession. Born and raised in the Philippines, her mother and grandmother—both teachers— were her first inspirations. Initially, she wanted to be a lawyer. But when she was ten years old, her grandparents became sick. Bearing witness to how tenderly the family cared for them and the tremendous difference it made in their recovery, Daphny decided to become a nurse when she grew up. Over 20 years later, Peneza is an accomplished perioperative leader whose career will be one to keep an eye on.
Peneza was naturalized in November 2022. She delayed the process due to the pandemic, a selfless act typical of healthcare workers. After serving as team leader for her organization’s PPE task force, she stepped up as the only RN educator for a team of around 500. For a time, it was unclear if she could complete her naturalization on time. But not only did she make it, but she was also chosen as a FAORN (Fellow of AORN), the first internationally educated nurse (she is licensed in the U.S., Philippines, and Canada), and Asian-American to receive such an honor.
“Being naturalized means that I have a voice in that I can now vote. I can lobby our politicians about healthcare and have an influence. I will exercise it to the best of my ability,” Peneza says.
How she acclimated to nursing practice in different countries. Both professional and personal support is vital. When Peneza moved to Canada, she had relatives already living there. She says her “second family” was the network she grew through professional organizations when she arrived in the U.S.
“When I was in Houston, Texas, my first preceptor brought me to an AORN chapter meeting,” Peneza says. “The professional organizations there are very close-knit. This is also true for Nashville, where I am now. Apart from transitioning into the clinical settings, you need a set of friends and mentors that will support you through your career growth.”
Incredible mentors have taken her under their wings. Dr. Patria Manalaysay, Dean of the College of Nursing at Ateneo de Davao University in the Philippines, encouraged Peneza to complete her master’s degree at 24. Joanne Oliver mentored her while she was president of the Greater Houston chapter of AORN in 2020-21. She did a presentation at last year’s AORN expo with her first executive mentor, Deborah Ebert, Associate VP of Memorial Hermann Hospital, titled “Nurse Mentoring: Shaping Our Future.”
“My greatest role model is, of course, my mom,” Peneza says. “The greatest lesson she taught me was that the strength of a leader lies in how genuine their heart is. If your team sees how sincere you are in the way you handle day-to-day issues—and in how you communicate and collaborate with them—that will go a long way.”
She pursued perioperative leadership to give back. “I serve the future by encouraging young nurses to elevate practice the best way they can, whether they’re transitioning to perioperative practice or venturing into professional leadership,” Peneza says.
Nurture future perioperative leaders. “One of the things the healthcare industry needs to work on is being open to opportunities to grow. Healthcare recruitment needs to start in preschool and grade school with strategies like teddy bear clinics, field trips to institutions, and open houses,” Peneza says.
Daphny Peneza, MSN, RN, CNOR, CSSM, FAORN, is the perioperative services manager for neurosurgery and otolaryngology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, TN.