As a high schooler, Dina Besirevic helped her father navigate the American healthcare system and cope with cancer — despite the fact that she had arrived in the country at age 16 speaking no English.

Her family emigrated from war-torn Croatia in 2001 in hopes of finding advanced treatment for Hase Besirevic’s brain tumor. As Dina picked up the language, she became his translator, observer of all things medical and, eventually, his power of attorney.

The experience shaped her life in ways that still resonate 16 years later in her role as regional clinical reimbursement consultant for Villa Healthcare. Without her father’s illness, Dina says, she might not have come to understand the influence that interpersonal relationships can have on professional caregiving.

“One of the biggest things my dad instilled in me was that to take care of yourself, you also have to take care of the other people around you,” she says. “There’s no better gratification.”

Dina’s father underwent a risky surgery and then recuperated with the help of doctors and nurses in the family’s new hometown of Chicago. A particular oncology nurse who went above and beyond to comfort Hase and keep his family informed sparked young Dina’s interest in nursing.

Unfortunately, five years after the surgery, on the day of his naturalization ceremony, Dina noticed her father’s balance had taken a turn for the worse. She was the one to break the news to the rest of the family that Hase’s cancer had returned and was terminal. He died in hospice care three weeks later.

After initially attending nursing school but switching to business to try to support her family better, Dina returned to nursing and earned an associate’s degree. It was during rotations that she first felt the pull of long-term care. She stopped into a nursing home after taking her licensing exam and has never left the industry. She rose from charge nurse to MDS coordinator and into her MDS consulting role. She works with staff and patients in Illinois and Wisconsin.

“She continually wants to improve her skills as a caregiver but also … to share what she knows with others,” says Villa’s Communications Director Linsey Cherveny. “Her motto is simple: ‘To do right by others.’ She wants to decrease suffering, increase care and inspire other nurses.”

Dina remains guided by her father’s passion for caring for others. She enjoys the balance of skilled nursing, which allows her to build relationships with long-term residents and guide rehabilitative care plans that can improve short-term residents’ quality of life.

She still lives four blocks from her mother, Senada, in downtown Chicago. When not at work, she enjoys recharging in the great outdoors with her husband, Emir Nezirevic — even if it might mean hiking on snow-covered trails much of the year.

After her outings, she returns refreshed and ready to go for morning stand-ups. She also makes sure she gets out on rounds for face time with residents. 

“They’re not just a number or another patient,” Dina says. “I could get to save a life or help a family with a transition at the end of life. Their families get to know you, and you get to know them. I get a lot more gratification from that.”

Resume: 2001, moves to U.S. from war-torn Croatia; 2006, earns associate’s degree in business from Northeastern Illinois University; 2013, earns associate’s degree in nursing from Truman College; 2013, starts first nursing job at ManagCare; 2014, becomes restorative nurse at Mosaic Healthcare; 2016, takes MDS coordinator role; 2017, moves to BRIA Health Services; 2018, named regional clinical reimbursement consultant for Villa Healthcare.