South Texas Health System McAllen Employee Named Graduate of the Year by Goodwill Industries of South Texas

Wednesday, December 27, 2023
Irene Lerma holding her Goodwill certificate of completion

South Texas Health System is proud to have a dedicated staff who continuously strive to keep learning and growing professionally in their respective fields, so it’s especially meaningful when one of those staff members is recognized for their hard work.

Irene Lerma, an RN Case Manager at South Texas Health System McAllen, has been named as the 2023 Graduate of the Year by Goodwill Industries of South Texas and will be officially recognized as this year’s honoree for the region during the 75th annual Goodwill Board Meeting and Recognition Dinner on Thursday, January 25, in Corpus Christi.

Goodwill Industries created the Graduate of the Year award to recognize an exceptional individual who has, despite having a disability or other barrier to employment, successfully completed a job training program offered by the nation’s leading nonprofit social enterprise and gone on to secure competitive employment with a company outside of Goodwill. The award is meant to honor someone who has demonstrated perseverance in overcoming obstacles to obtain and maintain employment.

Improving Her Computer Skills

A registered nurse for 36 years, Lerma, 65, retired from her position as RN case manager at South Texas Health System Children’s at the end of December 2022 to take time off to reevaluate her career. While on break, she and her husband both decided they needed to brush up on their computer skills, so she enrolled in Goodwill’s “Let’s Get Back to Work” training in June and successfully completed the program in November. Her husband, a military veteran, simultaneously enrolled in the Goodwill Veteran Services Program.

In the end, Lerma earned four certificates, passing her exams with flying colors — Basic Computer Skills with 90.9%, Internet Basics with 95.6%, Windows 10 with 88.9% and Microsoft Excel with 91.5%.

In July, Lerma decided to return to work part-time as an RN case manager at STHS McAllen. In her role, she communicates with insurance providers and ensures that case information is efficiently relayed back and forth. Her new digital skills have enabled her to provide the necessary information clearly and concisely. She has also been able to apply the skills she learned to her personal life, including using her improved Excel skills for financial budgeting and other tasks.

Before embarking on the courses, Lerma said the main obstacle for her was a lack of knowledge and she noted that, like many people of her generation, she and her husband did not grow up with computers. But after getting over the initial challenge during her classes, she found it easy to keep going.

“Besides serving as a good foundation for your job, being able to use these programs helps you complete your tasks more efficiently, especially for work where time management is extremely important,” said Lerma. “Being in the medical field is very satisfying to me and when you’re able to help patients realize the best plan for them, and you’re helping to coordinate all of that in a timely manner, that’s the best part of what I do. Just knowing that you’re a part of that, and that it helps the patient that you’re supposed to be looking after, is an amazing feeling and I wouldn’t have been able to do that as effectively had I not taken these classes.”

Sharing Her Knowledge With Others

But the knowledge and skills she obtained through the Goodwill program haven’t only benefited her. Irene has proudly shared her newfound expertise with her team members, which has been especially beneficial for nurses who are just starting out their careers. “Irene brings a vast source of knowledge with her, so that and her years in case management give her an advantage over anyone new that’s coming into the field,” said Gwendolyn Judon-Obasuyi, Director of Case Management, STHS McAllen, “All of those things that she shares with the team, that makes us all a better department. What she spreads to everybody else makes us all a better team.”