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My Why: "Nursing Has Truly Been a Gift"

Wednesday, June 16, 2021 4:41 PM

Working in healthcare is uniquely rewarding and challenging. Our "My Why" series looks at what keeps NorthShore physicians and team members motivated to consistently deliver exceptional care and customer service at NorthShore.

Do you want to share what keeps you energized and focused in your role at NorthShore? To learn more about participating in this feature, email

For Chief Nursing Officer John Tressa, nursing has always been a true calling. “I could have done a number of things, but this was what I was meant to do," said Tressa. “I've been in nursing for 38 years and it has truly been a gift. I've done everything I've wanted to do, and I've always gotten more back than I gave."

John Tressa

Tressa saw first-hand what it meant to be a compassionate and skilled caregiver watching his mother who worked as a nurse for 42 years. He has a vivid memory of seeing his mother perform CPR on a woman in full cardiac arrest in a restaurant, watching in wonder at her skill and composure and simultaneously worrying about the woman who was taken alone by paramedics to the hospital.

“I wanted to go to the hospital, I thought nobody should die alone. I knew right there that I had a vocation," said Tressa. He got involved in a health occupations program in high school and started working as a nurse assistant in a nursing home after school.

As we celebrate Pride Month as part of our Diversity, Equity & Inclusion journey, Tressa's story demonstrates the power of authentic leadership and pursuing one's path through hardships. He has had a full and varied career starting in the pediatric ICU at what is now Lurie Children's Hospital, then working on the inaugural team as a transport nurse for high risk neonatal and pediatric patients before moving to flight nursing at the University of Chicago, where no two days were ever alike and his team could be called to the scene of an accident on a highway.

He spent a number of years working as a CNO, COO, and CEO in Houston before a personal tragedy changed his world, and ultimately brought him back to the Chicago area and NorthShore.

Tressa's partner of eight years (a physician) died suddenly of a massive heart attack at age 46, leaving him as a single parent of a 6-week old infant and a 20-month-old in 2013. “Tim died and I still had to get up the next day and take care of a baby and a not even two-year-old. I had to make sure their life went on without a hitch and that kept me going," said Tressa.

“We stayed in Houston for five years, but there was always a layer of sadness surrounding us and I didn't want that for my daughters. I wanted to change the narrative for all of us and get our happiness back," said Tressa.

When he told his mother he was taking the role as NorthShore CNO she wondered how he would find more than 24 hours in a day to do it all. His mother has since congratulated him on successfully balancing the priorities of children, family life, and work.

“You have one chance to do everything great," said Tressa. “NorthShore has given me the opportunity to focus on my passion for nursing, and taking care of others while being there for my family at the same time."

Tressa jokes that as a gay, widowed, single parent he is a bit of a unicorn, but he is obviously proud of his family and the honesty and authenticity of their lives. “I tell them, I want you to be proud of your story. You had two parents who wanted you so desperately."

“Working at NorthShore, I have never been anything, but myself and I've received nothing but resounding support," said Tressa. “I feel very lucky to work in this truly inclusive environment. I hope it becomes not so unusual to have an openly gay person in leadership and a single parent balancing work and life."