News & Press: Member Spotlight

Houston Nurse Practitioner Makes a Difference for Children in Foster Care

Tuesday, October 15, 2019   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Erin Cusack
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By Hannah Holder

Nurse Practitioners (NPs) can be found in just about every health care setting imaginable – from your corner CVS minute clinic or local emergency room to the most rural regions of the state. Wherever you find NPs, there’s one thing they all have in common: their passion and calling to serve the underserved. Today’s nurse practitioner spotlight is no exception to that rule.

Meet Mary Senkel, a Family Nurse Practitioner from Houston, Texas.  Senkel and the Child Abuse Resource and Education (CARE) Clinic Team at the UT Health Science Center at Houston work tirelessly to provide services for families and children in foster care system. In this role, Senkel conducts examinations for families and children that have faced or are at risk of abuse and neglect. She is also a primary care provider for children living in foster care and manages their primary healthcare needs – from providing vaccines and basic health examinations to conducting foster care entrance exams.

Senkel was an art history major who went back to school for a second career in nursing. She called it a “leap of faith” getting into pediatrics and forensics. When asked what drew her to the role, Senkel said, “I knew I wanted to work with patients with specialized medical needs and be able to collaborate with an interdisciplinary team.”

Senkel’s job requires a uniquely holistic, community-oriented approach to patient care. Senkel stays busy working with multi-disciplinary teams like child protective services, law enforcement, food banks and other resources for families and children who face or are at risk of abuse and neglect. Her organization also participates in parenting advocacy and support groups.

“We’re very excited to be part of a parenting help coalition that helps connect at-risk families to in-home parenting support,” Senkel said.

Senkel works directly with board certified child abuse pediatricians, a license combination of forensics and general practitioner care. Due to the shortage of health care providers certified or trained in forensic science, Senkel said, “There is a huge need for advanced trained nurses and nurse practitioners to help with the increasing patient load.”

Providing more than just health services

On top of the care and services she provides to children and families, Senkel has also made an effort to implement a policy in the clinic waiting area known as the No Hit Zone project.

No Hit Zone is a comprehensive program to create a safe and comfortable environment for parents, children and staff within a facility. The program promotes healthy parent and child relationship techniques that do not involve hitting:

  • No adult should hit a child
  • No child should hit another child
  • No adult should hit another adult
  • No child should hit an adult

Senkel said, “The long terms effects of the program are to raise awareness on corporal punishment and promote non-violent discipline towards children.”

A foster care patient success story

Senkel worked alongside a miraculous case of a foster care baby, David, who was nursed back to health by his adoptive parents and the CARE Clinic team at the UT Health Science Center at Houston. 

Rueben and Alayna Vasquez adopted David at 10 months old, knowing he had heart issues. What they didn’t know is the other medical challenges David was facing. He was very underdeveloped and underweight, weighing only 10 pounds at 10 months old. He also had an extremely weak immune system that made him easily prone to viruses, was unable to breathe properly and was diagnosed with life-threatening sleep apnea.

The CARE team provided around-the-clock care to both David and his new adoptive parents. After learning to not be afraid to eat by spoon, getting his adenoids removed, and attending countless physical, occupational and speech therapy sessions, David’s long road of recovery was finally completed.

David and his new family happily reside in Humble, Texas where they frequently do family activities together, like playing baseball. David is widely known in his small-town community for being the biggest Astros fan around.

“He has gone from a very sick and vulnerable baby who wasn’t reaching any of his milestones to a healthy little boy, bursting with energy and life,” Senkel said about David’s progress. 



Mary Senkel is a family nurse practitioner who practices in the UT Health CARE clinic in Houston Texas. She is a Houston native and currently resides with her husband and two children. She loves art, music, playing games with her children and trips to the beach in Galveston.

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