Advocate: JoAnn Lomax ’74
It’s second shift, after dark, and JoAnn Lomax ’74 is making the rounds at Froedtert Hospital. She visits patients and families in the intensive care units, listening and calming fears, until her buzzing pager whisks her away to another family in need.
As a nurse liaison with the patient relations department, Lomax bridges the gap that sometimes exists between health care providers and patients and families in crisis.
“In the emergency room, there are a lot of opportunities for patient advocacy and also advocacy for families who are receiving some of the most devastating news of their life — to be the buffer, the educator, the comforter, to help people move one step forward if they possibly can,” explains Lomax, who is president of the Wisconsin Associates of Patient Advocacy. “I utilize all of the resources I have to try to make a situation better.”
Lomax began her career as a nursing assistant and licensed practical nurse (LPN). At age 30, she enrolled in Alverno to earn her bachelor’s degree in nursing. “As an LPN, I was able to take care of patients and do a lot of things. At Alverno, I learned the why,” says Lomax, now a registered nurse. “Understanding the physiology was very, very intriguing.”
Her education surpassed nursing. “Alverno taught me confidence,” she says. “I thought I had it, but it was enhanced. Alverno helped me be able to stand up in front of groups. I learned how to present subjects and how to present myself. My twin sister would say, ‘Look at that Alverno coming out of you.’”
After graduation, she blazed new trails, becoming the first African American to hold the following roles: head nurse at St. Joseph’s Hospital, nurse educator at Mount Sinai Hospital and clinical supervisor of emergency medicine for Milwaukee County General Hospital. She also earned two master’s degrees, finishing her last degree in her mid-60s.
Now 78, Lomax has spent the past 23 years in a variety of roles at Froedtert. But nurse liaison has been one of her favorite jobs. She works with families experiencing devastating traumas and gets to know chronically ill patients.
It’s not easy work. Patients often see different medical teams, so Lomax ensures that everyone is on the same page. She spots things others miss, like when an angry patient lashed out at a nurse because he couldn’t read. Above all, she listens.
“Being African American and being in patient relations has been a bonus,” she says. “A great many of my trauma patients are African American. In a trauma situation, when frantic family members see someone who looks like them, it can ease some of the fears and tension.”
Lomax works with hundreds of families each year, and she makes a lasting impression. It’s not uncommon for a family to stop her in the hall and tell her how they first met years ago. “They’ll tell me, ‘I remember you… You were so nice to my family, so kind to us,’” she says. “That, for me, is worth it.”
Advocates in Action
Alverno alums like Lomax dedicate their careers to social justice causes. Click the names below to read their stories of advocacy, and if you know of an Alverno alum who is working on behalf of others, let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article appears in the 2019 spring/summer issue of Alverno Magazine.