Felix Jones wears his nursing scrubs with the same pride he wore his U.S. Army uniform when he was serving in Korea and Iraq. So when Independence Blue Cross recently selected the North Philly native as one of five nurses out of over 1,100 nominated for a Celebrate Caring award, he couldn’t have been more honored.

“It encompasses everything I consider myself to be as a health-care professional – as a nurse, as a father, and as a man,” said Jones, 37.

A rehabilitation nurse with Good Shepherd Penn Partners and a nurse with the Philadelphia Department of Prisons who volunteers with young people’s groups, Jones said he’ll likely donate his $2,500 award to an organization that will benefit city youth.

“I always tell people if I come upon a large amount of money, I’m going to give it away,” said Jones.

It all goes back to the wisdom his late mother passed on to him: “She always told me, ‘Don’t aspire to make a living. Aspire to make a difference.’”

Like a lot of the young people Jones now mentors, he thought he’d glide into college on an athletic scholarship. But a hip injury dashed that dream. So after graduating from Roxborough High School, he enlisted in the Army, where he became passionate about service to others, especially children. That drive is part of what earned him a Celebrate Caring award.

Q: In April, you were stricken by the coronavirus and were out of work for weeks. What was that like?

A: When I came down with COVID-19, I was angry because I wanted to get back to help my colleagues — I always call them my “battle buddies,” and they always laugh. In the military, we call the people in our squad our battle buddies because they’re our partners in battle. Like the whole world, we see COVID-19 as the enemy. I wanted to help fight against COVID-19. My co-workers would call me and at times I had a hard time breathing. They could hardly even hear me. They’d wish me well and tell me about work. I wanted to get back to help.

Q: You volunteer with city youth and community organizations. Do you try to encourage young people to pursue careers in health care?

A: I tell kids that superheroes don’t always wear capes — and don’t always have mixtapes. I tell them there’s a future in medicine, not only to be a nurse or a doctor, but to be an occupational therapist, a physical therapist, a speech pathologist. Athletics and entertainment is a lottery. Going to school, being committed to your studies, you have a better opportunity of taking care of yourself and your family in medicine and health care than being a basketball player or a rapper.

One time in a correctional facility, a man said to me, “I never saw a brother who was a nurse.” I got choked up for a minute. I just told him, I went to school and pursued nursing, and you could do it, too.

Felix Jones, IBX award-winning nurse, and his daughter Mikayla Jones.
Felix Jones family photo
Felix Jones, IBX award-winning nurse, and his daughter Mikayla Jones.
Q: During this pandemic, how can people keep themselves and health-care workers safe?

A: Please adhere to the guidelines that have been given out by the government, the CDC, and by your city officials because COVID-19 is real. And the sad thing is, a lot of us are infected, and we don’t know because we’re not showing symptoms. Continue to wash your hands. Wear your face mask. Practice social distancing. Please continue to listen to the officials even when [governments] lift the restrictions, because they’re being lifted for economic reasons.

Q: Is there anything you would ask of our elected officials?

A: Listen to the health-care professionals — they know what they’re talking about. They trained all their lives. Let’s give up one summer to save immunity. Let’s give up one Labor Day to save mankind.

Q: What has being a nurse taught you?

A: It taught me how to better understand people, and how important it is to communicate with them. Just having a conversation can change someone’s day. You never know what you might learn, just by talking to them. Being in health care has made me more empathetic, more able to understand what others are going through.

I would tell anyone who is worried about their career now, no matter what age you are, nursing is a timeless, ageless career. I have colleagues who started going to nursing school in their late 40s. I have some who went in their 50s. I have a couple accountant colleagues, educators, artists. So many people have found their way to nursing.

I think nursing is a very “selfish” career: When you give this stuff to somebody, you get all this back in return, all the rewards. All that you give the patient is also yours. All that glory.