September 15th marked the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month, a 4-week period that encapsulates multiple Latin American independence days, including Honduras (Sept. 15) and Mexico (Sept. 16). It’s celebrated nationwide to honor the many Hispanic communities in the United States and to recognize the achievements and contributions of Hispanic–Americans who continue to inspire those around them!
In the spirit of that, we wanted to shine a light on three incredible Hispanic–American Nurses who work across various areas of nursing. We chatted to all three about their profession and what being Hispanic means to them.
Melanie is a PICU nurse living in Miami, Florida
Why did you choose to become a nurse?
That's a big one! I wouldn't say there's one reason I did it, there are many reasons. In high school, I was always into music; I've always been the artsy kind. It wasn't until I was volunteering at an event for children that one of the kids just collapsed on the floor. And I remember thinking, well, I want to help them, but I don't know how! Right there and then—I knew. I'm like, okay, I need to do something in the healthcare field. So I started volunteering at Jackson Memorial, which is where I work now, and because I've always wanted to be a pediatric nurse, I started volunteering in that unit. I applied for a job at a home health care agency where I was in charge of scheduling the nurses to go to patients homes and also got very involved with anything that could get me closer to becoming a nurse. Eventually, I started a nurse program and fast forward two years—I'm a Registered Nurse! I don't see myself doing anything else.
That's incredible. Do you have any advice for young nursing students starting out?
Volunteer. I feel like had I not volunteered, I would have gotten very discouraged with the amount of schooling that's required for nursing. It's very difficult, but because I put myself out there and already exposed myself to what I wanted to do, I was like “okay, I see myself doing this.” Then it was that much easier to study, to picture my end goal, and eventually pursue nursing.
Do you feel your heritage has impacted your role as a nurse?
It definitely influenced it because I'm able to speak Spanish to the Hispanic population. I'm the person that patients look for when they need someone to translate. The language is one of the obvious thing that sets me apart, but culture-wise completely different. I feel like us Hispanics are normally very affectionate. We say “mi amor” in Spanish at the end of everything when speaking to others, and I feel like that's transmitted in my care as a nurse. People see that, people feel that.
I love that. Is there any type of tradition that your family has that you want to carry on?
Not going to lie, Hispanic Heritage Month is more like 365 days a year for us. Whether it’s food, or going out to Cuban restaurants, or attending Cuban events, I want to carry forward always having lunch with my family on the weekends. Saturday afternoon, it's family lunch. When mom home cooks Cuban food, everyone knows that you have to come over and I love that! It keeps us together. It keeps us unified as a family, and I feel like it holds onto our roots.
What has been your proudest moment as a nurse and your most difficult moment as a nurse?
My proudest moment was making my patient's mother feel seen and heard. There was a language barrier, and I was busy with my patients, so I couldn't really come and translate on time. But once I was able to, she pulled me aside and she was like, “Thank you so much. You don't understand how hard it is not being able to really tell people how I feel or about my daughter's care.”
And the hardest….I will say it's more like an everyday thing. Now, I've only been a pediatric nurse for a month and I've spent that month training. Before now, all I had done was work with adults for the past two years of my career. So it's definitely a lot harder in the sense that my new focus is working with babies. I'm dealing with the little people that are sick, and on top of that, I'm dealing with the parents, who are understandably worried.
Martha is a Pediatrics Nurse who also teaches pediatrics at UCLA living in Los Angeles, California
Why did you choose to become a nurse?
When I was younger, my brother was diagnosed with a tumor. We were in and out of the hospital a lot and we were actually at Children's Hospital Los Angeles. We obviously interacted a lot with the nurses, so I just really liked seeing how they were caring for my brother. But, I had no idea what becoming a nurse entailed. I just was like, wow, that seems like something I could do, right? And that was when I was twelve. That’s what started my interest.
Do you have any advice for nursing students?
I always say, do not let the journey or the course of action deter you. It looks like a lot and it’s hard, but it’s so worth it in the end. We need so many more nurses that actually care and really want to be in the field, so please don't get discouraged.
How has your heritage affected your role as a nurse?
Because of my heritage and my background, it was really important to me to highlight how everyone's journey is different.
I share a lot of those types of stories on my website and my Instagram called @latinxrnofficial. Personally, I feel like I’m the “typical statistic.” I was a pregnant teen. I am Hispanic. My dad came from Nicaragua, first generation. So I feel like statistically I should not have made it, quote, unquote. But the fact that I'm here and the fact that now it's my turn to lend my hand for those who have similar backgrounds or maybe not so similar, but were first generation, it's really important for me to just be that face for people.
That's awesome. What does being Hispanic mean to you and how is your heritage shaped who you are today?
I feel like I am so proud to be Hispanic, especially in today's day and age. I feel like we bring so much culture, we bring so much knowledge, and we bring a different point of view. It makes me so happy to look around and see brown leaders and brown directors and managers. It just really shows how resilient we are and how we belong to be in any aspect of the workforce.
What was your proudest moment as a nurse to date?
I would say my proudest moment, and it happens almost daily or if not daily, is being able to walk into a room with a Hispanic family and watching their face changing from really anxious to calm when they see me. For them to think “okay, I'm going to get the care that I deserve”; that look on their face never gets old.
Javier is a Psychiatric Nurse living in Washington Heights, NYC
Right now, I live in New York. I actually live in a very Hispanic-dominated community in Washington Heights, which is a predominantly Dominican community. So I'm surrounded by the culture, which I love. I do Psychiatric Nursing. o I went on to school and got my master's and doctorate, and now I'm a Nurse Practitioner in Psychiatry.
What made you choose to become a nurse?
A lot of things! At first I was looking into social work. I've always been passionate about mental health and definitely helping the community and especially the psychosocial factors that go into health. Then I realized that nursing sort of encompasses all of that, but it also encompasses some science and biology and anatomy and physiology, and I really love the sciences. Going the nursing route, I was really able to hone in on some of the things that I value in my education and that I was very interested in. And so then I was like, this is perfect; nursing is what I want to do. As nurses, we’re so diverse with our license, you can do basically anything with nursing. There's school nursing, there's forensic nursing, there's community nursing.
Do you have any advice that you would give to those who are aspiring to be a nurse or maybe starting out in their studies?
I think that it's so important to have faith in yourself. I remember the first time somebody called me to do nursing, I was like, “I can’t do this, I'm not smart enough.” But really, you can do it. As long as you are persistent, willing to give it your all, and you know there's an end goal, you can do it.
Oh, I love that. What does being Hispanic mean to you? And how do you feel that your heritage may have shaped who you are today?
That's an amazing question. I might be all over the place with this! Certainly one of the things is that in the Hispanic community, health is not the main priority, especially for Hispanic men. They won't go to the doctor until something is really wrong. And so I think as a nurse coming in and being Hispanic, I knew that that was a problem in our community. Whenever I would meet with patients who are Hispanic, I would definitely go that extra mile to explain the importance of health, treatment, the importance of taking the medication, and why we're doing the things we're doing.
The other thing that has really influenced my nursing and being Hispanic is the fact that there are many patients who don't know the English language, and when they're in the hospital, everything's very confusing for them. You have many providers coming in using all this medical jargon, and they may not understand what's happening. That can be a very scary time! Being Hispanic and a nurse, I’m able to be there for those clients, translate, let them know what's happening and give them a voice. I think a lot of the time, Hispanic patients feel helpless in the hospital because there they are navigating the complex medical system.
Is there anything that your family has tradition-wise that you are proud of that you want to pass down from your heritage? Can I ask where your family is from?
Yes. My parents came from Cuba, and from day one they have always reminded me, especially when I got in trouble, that we came to this country for me to succeed. The opportunities in Cuba are very limited and they always instilled in me to succeed in school, to go out and make a name for myself, and help the community. That is something that I would pass down.
What has been your proudest moment to date as a nurse and your most difficult?
I have a few of them. One that comes to mind was when I was with a minority patient. He gets to me and I'm looking over his paperwork and he's diagnosed with Oppositional Decline Disorder, Conduct Disorders, and Behavioral Disorders, which are labels that you give to children who are quote unquote, bad. He was running away from home, cussing out his grandma, and I started talking to him and then I realized that on paper, this black child was misunderstood by so many people and nobody took the extra time to understand his situation at home. He was running away from home because he was in an unsafe environment, and so when most providers hear that, it's like ‘the child is running away from home, they're bad, they're not following the rules’. And so that goes to say that minority children get misdiagnosed all the time. They get labels that follow them around when I talked to him and opened up to him about my own background, and he was like, nobody has ever shared that with me, that other people struggle.
If you want to learn more or see how other people are celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month, check out https://www.hispanicheritagemonth.gov/