Mary-Ellen Cooper (center) has been named the Massachusetts Coalition of Nurse Practitioners 2021 Distinguished Nurse Practitioner

Mary-Ellen Cooper (center) has been named the Massachusetts Coalition of Nurse Practitioners 2021 Distinguished Nurse Practitioner. Cooper values the teamwork and close relationship with her fellow Tewksbury Hospital nurses as the reason for her success and survival during the fight against COVID-19. From left are Amie Marquis, Mukumbi Brown, Cooper, Paula Surro, and Janice Mahoney.    (Courtesy photo)

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.”

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