TEWKSBURY — The Massachusetts Coalition of Nurse Practitioners (MCNP) recently named Tewksbury resident Mary-Ellen Cooper as the 2021 recipient of the MCNP Distinguished Nurse Practitioner Award. She has been in nursing for over 30 years and is currently a nurse practitioner at Tewksbury Hospital.
As Catherine McKinnon, Executive Director, MCNP explains, Cooper’s work as an expert clinician, leader, and patient advocate is being recognized as well as her role on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cooper will formally accept her award during a virtual awards ceremony being held on May 6 as part of the 2021 New England Regional Nurse Practitioner Conference.
Cooper works at Tewksbury Hospital Department of Mental Health Unit doing primary care medicine. She manages in-patient health programs and care outside of their mental health issues.
She became a nurse in 1990 when she graduated from the Tewksbury Hospital School of Practical Nursing as an LPN. In 1996 at Rivier University, she earned an associate’s degree and became an RN. Then in 2003, Cooper earned a bachelor degree in nursing, also from Rivier.
Later by winning a grant from a government program, she was able to continue her education in the graduate nursing program at UMASS Lowell. In 2009, she became a Nurse Practitioner.
“It was hard,” Cooper said looking back. “I was a single mom with three teenagers and a mortgage.”
Looking back at her hospital’s COVID-19 experience, Cooper says it was all horrific and so surreal.
She wondered, “How did I not get it?”
Everyone in her two units had the virus except her. She explained, at first no one knew what the illness was so there were no protocols yet. There she was, with no mask or special precautions, looking into patients throats and such.
“The whole medical community didn't know how to handle it,” explained Cooper.
The staffs of hospitals kept in close contact trying to help and learn from each other.
“How do you treat this beast?” was the question.
“Something like this brings out the best in people,” she said.
She and her group of fellow nurse practitioners have become closer than ever.
“I love them all like sisters; we took care of each other.”
Displaying seemingly endless energy, Cooper volunteers in other healthcare capacities, too. She sponsors students from UMass Lowell each year. They follow her throughout her day and learn through observation and discussion in a clinical environment.
“I just like to give back,” she said. “That's why I do it for UMass Lowell; that's where I went.”
In that same “give-back” mode, she has also volunteered with the Massachusetts Medical Reserve Corps serving in vaccine clinics.
Cooper’s care and concern for others goes beyond her nursing interests. She is a co-founder of Into Action Recovery, Inc., a local non-profit organization. It was organized in Tewksbury in 2015 to fight the vicious cycle of addiction recovery and relapse. Cooper also serves as a board member of the Tewksbury Lions Club.
Cooper’s mother was the catalyst for her nursing career. Her mother worked in administration at Tewksbury Hospital and convinced then-high-school-student Cooper to apply there as a nursing assistant. Cooper was reluctant, but her mother encouraged her by saying she should just try it for a week.
Now, 30 years later, Cooper reported, “It’s been a long week.”