Like Mother, Like Son

NewYork-Presbyterian nurse Mark Farrell followed in his mom Patricia’s footsteps and now works in the same NICU where she spent more than 30 years.

Mark Farrell with mom Patricia Farrell, both NICU nurses at NYP.
Mark Farrell with mom Patricia Farrell, both NICU nurses at NYP.

Mark Farrell remembers coming to work as a young boy with his mom, Patricia, and seeing her care for tiny, sick babies as a nurse in the neonatal intensive care unit. “It never occurred to me that there was this really incredible thing going on here until I saw her at work,” he says.

While his career didn’t start in health care, those early experiences made him realize he wanted to make a difference the way his mom did. He pivoted into nursing and began working in 2017 at NewYork-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital — in the same NICU where Patricia had worked for decades.

“Especially when Mark first started, it was nice for me to hear all the stories,” says Patricia, who worked at the children’s hospital from 1971 until she retired in 2009, at first on the pediatric floor and later in the NICU. “I understand exactly what he’s going through.”

The two have always been close, but both say they’ve connected on a deeper level since Mark followed in his mom’s footsteps. “It’s just made me come to really appreciate the work that she was doing when I was little,” he says.

In honor of Mother’s Day, Health Matters asked Patricia and Mark to share what they love most about their nursing careers — and each other.

I knew I wanted to be a nurse … 

Patricia: When I was in high school, I did some volunteer work in our local hospital. We were called candy stripers then. I saw nurses in action, and I thought: “This is what I want to do.”

Mark: From a young age, I was interested in going into healthcare. In college, I was initially in a physician assistant program and ended up switching to environmental science. But in the back of my mind I always thought, “Should I have stayed in medicine?”

About two years later, I decided to go back for a nursing degree, because I had seen growing up what it was like for my mom. I wanted to be in a career that I felt was meaningful.

The best thing about being a nurse is … 

Patricia: There are two: Making a difference in patients’ lives by being there to support and care for them, and also working with other nurses. There’s real camaraderie; we develop very close relationships.

Mark: When I go into work, I feel like I’m doing something important. Caring for babies, especially babies in the NICU, is really rewarding.

My favorite thing about my son/mom is …

Patricia: Well, I have to say that I’m a bragging mother; my son is amazing. He’s very active. He started doing a lot of birding when he was in college, and he’s a fantastic photographer. Every year he gives family members a calendar with all his bird pictures. He is also a great guitar player, a rock climber, and recently became a tour guide for the Mets at Citi Field.

Mark: She’s just always been very dependable and reliable. One of my co-workers who also used to work with my mom told me a story: When I was little, I would sometimes call her while she was at work, and even when she was in the middle of a crazy day, she’d always answer the phone. She’d be very patient and caring; she’d want to know how my day at school was, or ask, “Mark, what did you have for breakfast?”

The No. 1 thing I’ve learned from my son/mom is …  

Patricia: Mark has taught me to really listen to people, which is so important. He’s very easy to talk to and is always genuinely interested in how you’re doing and what you have to say. He’s always there for you.

Mark: I think it’s compassion. My mom is a very kind and patient person. Growing up, even when she’d get frustrated with my siblings and me, she’d always approach us in a caring, understanding way.

What Mother’s Day means to me …  

Patricia: Mother’s Day is a special day to spend with my children. I let them know how much they mean to me, and they express the same. I have a butterfly garden at my house, and for Mother’s Day, my children give me my favorite plants, and Mark usually helps me plant them.

Mark: I’ve been close to my mom my whole life. I’ve come to appreciate Mother’s Day more as I’ve gotten older. It makes me appreciate everything that she’s done for us.

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