Maria Walker

Maria Walker has been a family nurse practitioner for almost five years and a nurse for over 20 years. She has also been married to her husband, Eric, for 20 years, and together, they have four boys. Read on to hear, in Maria’s words, how career challenges led to personal championships… and entrepreneurship.

“When I started the DNP program at USF, one year ago, I had been working in primary care for 3 years and was feeling ‘burn-out.’ There was a repetitive cycle occurring and it was driving me crazy! Patients would come in for a behavioral health issue or obesity– with or without other disease. I would have 20 minutes to get the story, offer solutions and refer the patient for counseling or to a nutritionist. I believed that was a good place to start.

Thirty days later at the patient’s follow up visit, there would be absolutely no progress or the condition was worse. Patients would report trying to follow through on referrals but calls were unanswered, available appointments were three months away or they were told their insurance was not accepted. I determined that my burn-out was not related to patients, but related to our health care system.

During my interview for admission to USF, I talked to Dr. Deena Nardi about the need to integrate these services under one roof so that services could be coordinated to improve patient compliance. In February 2016, the idea to open a nurse-led clinic was born.

I began researching and reading about nurse-led clinics and started following the steps. Initially, the focus was on childhood obesity, and three other colleagues and I developed an integrated health and fitness program that also addresses social issues called ‘PLAY’– Promoting (healthy) Lifestyles for All Youth. I was pursuing opening a clinic with everything I had in me, but NOTHING was going right. I encountered many barriers and I was literally going in circles and getting nowhere. I got frustrated and decided to let it go and focus on school. I left primary care and started working in urgent care.

Eventually the idea of owning my own clinic came to life again, but this time it was different. Working in urgent care further proved that our health care system is broken. Although, I believe we will still implement PLAY one day, today it’s just another program out of many that already exist that are not working. The problem is bigger than a program or the decision to integrate services.

I began to pray and asked God to show me how to help His people. In the spring of 2017, I stumbled across a Facebook article about a nurse practitioner in Nebraska who had just opened her own practice following the Direct Primary Care (DPC) model, which I had never heard of before. The DPC model does not accept insurance for office visits. It’s affordable, subscription-based, high quality health care. The comments in response to the article were not encouraging, but the cost for the subscription was so low that I was drawn to it. I began researching the model and couldn’t stop. I was in awe and reached out to the nurse who was featured in the article and she called me.After our conversation, I knew God was answering my prayers.

In June of 2017, I filed for the name Hope Wellness Center & Spa, P.C., located in Chicago. Hope stands for ‘Helping Our People Every day.’ ‘Our’ refers to God’s people, inclusive of all nationalities. ‘Spa’ is more about the milieu. Everything began to fall in place quickly. On October 2, I opened my doors to the public.

I’ve concluded that people have lost hope and any expectation for our health care system. I want my clinic to begin to restore the hope and expectations that people should have regarding quality health care. When people walk into Hope Wellness Center & Spa, the soothing and relaxing environment makes them feel better and I begin to serve in the capacity that God has placed me.

I am also pursuing a doctorate at USF. This fall, I enrolled in a course with Dr. Nardi called ‘Diverse & Social Justice Issues in Global Society.’ The course was eye opening for me, and the perfect course to experience before my grand opening. Dr. Nardi is truly an expert in this field and her guidance and feedback has helped me gain clarity regarding my purpose to serve.

Deciding to attend University of St. Francis for my doctoral studies was one of my best decisions. Every single course has significantly enhanced my knowledge and equipped me with a greater understanding of our health care system as I have pursued entrepreneurship. As I embark upon this amazing journey, serving and caring, in an environment where I create the rules, I am proud to say that I have found ‘peace in my passion.’”