After 18 years, Nurse Practitioner Agnes Oblas is closing her Ahwatukee business, New Paths to Healthcare, and retiring from her 50-year career in nursing.
On Feb. 15, the day after her 72nd birthday, Oblas will walk away from the practice she built from scratch after setting out on her own when the traditional medical office in which she had practiced, also in Ahwatukee, closed their doors.
It is a bittersweet moment, she conceded as she looked around her office in the Ray Road Medical Center on S. 46th Place.
“I’ve done this now as a one-man show all these years and the practice has grown and it takes a lot of time and energy to give to each patient,” she said. “But that’s not why I’m retiring. It’s just time to enjoy life in a different way.”
And she has already laid the groundwork for her new business that incorporates a skill she learned at her mother’s knee at age 5 in Missouri.
Oblas’ interest in nursing began about the same time she was hospitalized with swollen glands.
It proved to be more than a passing childhood fancy.
She attended the University of Minnesota where she earned her bachelor’s degree in nursing in 1969. Beginning her nursing career at Beth Israel Hospital and Massachusetts General in Boston, she continued her studies, receiving her first master’s degree in medical-surgical nursing from Boston University in 1972.
Seven years later, she earned her second master’s in adult primary care from Simmons University, also in Boston.
“I successfully sat for Board Certification as an adult primary care nurse practitioner in 1980, and maintained that certification ever since,” she said.
Arizona is a frontrunner in allowing nurse practitioners to establish their own independent practices. Unlike some states, Arizona doesn’t require a nurse practitioner be supervised by, or collaborate with, a physician.
“Arizona is one of the few states in the nation where nurse practitioners are considered independent health-care providers,” said Oblas who was born in Hungary and came with her parents to the U.S. following World War II.
One of the tenets of her practice that she maintained throughout the years was spending anywhere from a half hour to an hour with each individual patient.
This meant she sometimes saw only up to seven patients daily, with each getting her full attention – a fact that helped her business grow as many medical professionals truncated doctor/patient time.
For many years running, Oblas won AFN’s Best of Ahwatukee Award for herself and her business.
She recalled that when she began as a nurse practitioner in 1980, she, or any other in her field, wasn’t allowed to use the word “diagnosis” when treating a patient – even when practicing with a physician.
“We could assess symptoms and persuade the patient they had, for example, a bladder problem, but we weren’t able to diagnose a urinary tract infection, or whatever it might be,” Oblas said. “Now, it doesn’t matter if it’s a nurse or a doctor who gives the diagnosis. They let us assume more responsibility, and we can do just about everything a physician can do.”
Even so, Oblas was in the minority of women nurse practitioners in Arizona opening their own autonomous practices.
Throughout her time as owner and practitioner of New Paths to Healthcare, Oblas gained innumerable kudos from patients who had her as their primary care NP.
“I could write a book about her,” laughed Mikki Wilson of Ahwatukee, who met Oblas 20 years ago when she took her son for shots at a local doctor’s office where Oblas then practiced.
“Being through a lot of doctors and facilities, it wasn’t until I became her patient that I was finally able to feel compassion,” she recalled. “No one before was clearly listening or seemed to care to understand you. Agnes Oblas become more than just my nurse practitioner – she became my mentor. I respect her so much.”
Wilson continued that no matter the time of day, Oblas was there for her.
“I know I’m not alone in saying this, but she always made me feel special. Her kind heart is very unique and one-of-a-kind, and I know she’s going to be desperately missed.”
Ahwatukee’s Joice Walton said connecting with Oblas at New Paths to Healthcare was an eye-opener.
“I’d never been seen by a nurse practitioner before, only medical doctors, and thought all nurses could do would be to interview you to see if you’re worthy enough to be seen by the doctor,” said Walton, an Ahwatukee resident for 38 years.
“My eyes were truly opened the first time we met. She actually looked me in the eye, talked directly to me and addressed my issues with many questions regarding why I’d come in to see her. This I found to be profoundly refreshing,” said Walton, adding:
“She set aside plenty of time to actually talk to you – who does that anymore? I could even call her when I was out of state with a problem and she’d help me, she’d always return my call. Again, who does that?”
Walton said she and her husband were both patients of Oblas for years.
“She’s one-of-a-kind and the best caregiver we’ll ever hope to have.”
Oblas’ retirement will not be spent in idleness. She already has a business in mind, called I Knit 4 You, in which she draws on her passion for knitting and crocheting.
“I really haven’t started it yet. I have my business cards; that’s about it,” she laughed. “And I don’t do afghans. I knit sweaters, skirts, dresses for special occasions.”
She said knitting and crocheting, skills she learned as a child from her mother, are releases from stress and a form of meditation.
“You’re focusing on the stitching and everything else falls away,” she said.
She formed a knitting and crocheting group called the Ahwatukee Foothills Knitters and Crocheters Anonymous who meet each Sunday 1-3 p.m. at the SunCup Cafe, 1241 E. Chandler Blvd., behind McDonald’s at Desert Foothills Parkway.
In her forthcoming retirement, she also plans to spend more time with Barry, her husband of 34 years, her adult-age son who lives in Tempe and her dog, Bailey, a yellow Labrador mix and trained therapy dog that was a daily office fixture.