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Veteran Mary Denise Acosta

Military veterans contribute to the daily operations of Cedars-Sinai in a wide variety of departments, roles and responsibilities.

In observance of Veterans Day—Wednesday, Nov. 11—we spoke with several team members whose paths to Cedars-Sinai began with their decision to join the armed forces.

Cedars-Sinai credential trainer Mary Denise Acosta

Mary Denise Acosta, RN

Call to Nursing Leads Young Woman to Air Force

From a young age, Mary Denise Acosta knew nursing was her calling. Looking back, it is clear why. The field perfectly blends two of her chief characteristics—a zeal for learning, paired with an empathetic heart and spirit.

"I became a candy stripe volunteer as soon as I was old enough," says Mary. "Nursing was always in the cards."

Cedars-Sinai credential trainer Mary Denise Acosta joined the Air Force in 1975.

Acosta joined the Air Force in 1975.

But it wasn't until her father—a lieutenant in the U.S. Army—encouraged a then 17-year-old Mary to visit a recruitment center in Detroit that she realized it was the Air Force that would ultimately lead to her dream career.

"I joined the Air Force because of my father's influence and because I learned I would experience direct patient care as a medical services specialist," says Mary, who works as a credentialed trainer for Enterprise Information Systems (EIS). "As a teenager, enlisting in the service was not the thing I wanted to do. But before I knew it, I was signing up and swearing in."

Shortly after she turned 18, Mary was sworn in and sent to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, for basic training. From there, she was sent to clinical training in Wichita Falls, Kansas.

"We would train from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., then march over to school together at 5:30 p.m.," says Mary. “We would be in school until midnight, then start the next day at 8 a.m. It was intense, but I learned so much.”

After training in Wichita Falls, Mary became a certified medical services specialist. From Kansas, she was stationed in Sacramento, California, where she spent five years working on base as a medical services specialist.

"I selected California as my dream seat because I truly believed it never rained there," recalls Mary. "But the first night I arrived in Sacramento, it was pouring rain. It wasn't quite the friendly welcome I had envisioned."

Mary quickly adjusted to life on base and enjoyed putting her skills as a medical services specialist to work.

"I finally had my chance to provide direct patient care while on base in Sacramento," says Mary. "It was fascinating. Fridays were my favorite day because I could sit in on basic operations and procedures."

Between her work in the medical field, Mary continued to move up the Air Force ladder through exemplary service. As she was promoted, she realized why basic training camp was so critical to her success.

"From washing and ironing your clothes, to learning about the rules and laws of military code and justice, everything I was taught instilled a sense of teamwork and hard work," Mary says. "Those skills shaped me into the professional I am today."

After five years in Sacramento, which also included meeting and marrying her husband and having a son, Mary and her family moved back to her home state of Michigan, where she began working in the healthcare insurance field while going back to school to—at last—attain her bachelor's degree in nursing.

As soon as she completed her degree, Mary began work as a registered nurse at the University of Michigan, while also attending night school to complete a master's degree in nurse management.

With both degrees, Mary moved up the corporate nursing ladder at the University of Michigan, where she remained for 30 years, only leaving for her current position at Cedars-Sinai.

"Working at the University of Michigan was like being in the Air Force," says Mary. "I was working on various units, providing direct patient care and collaborating with a strong team of colleagues."

After two decades of direct patient care, the lifelong learner switched roles and found a new, unexpected challenge.

"I fell in love with computers and began working in the IT department, training others on nursing and patient-care programs," says Mary. "I couldn't believe how easy the transition was and how madly in love with the work I became." 

When a recruiter from Cedars-Sinai contacted Mary about a credential trainer position, it felt like the stars had aligned.

"On my second interview, I spoke with the hiring manager and just knew this is someone I would love to work with," says Mary. "The deeper I was in the interview process, the more I learned how special Cedars-Sinai is."

Mary joined Cedars-Sinai in May, and she's been delighted with another professional opportunity to learn and grow. She's also glad to be near her son and two grandchildren.

"This move has brought me closer to family, the great weather I have longed for since my time in the service and a career I am passionate about," says Mary. "Life has really come full circle since joining the Air Force. It's a decision I'm forever grateful for."