There are too few Latino nurses. Covid has shown how important they are.
Registered nurse Luis Medina entered his shift in December and learned that a Covid-19 positive patient was resisting wearing his oxygen mask. Despite repeated attempts by a fellow nurse, they said, it was difficult to communicate with the patient because he spoke Spanish.
Medina, 25, who works at a community hospital near La Mirada, Calif., Visited the patient and explained in her mother tongue the importance of wearing the mask and the consequences of not doing so.
“With that language barrier and the ability to overcome that, the patient ended up getting better because they kept the oxygen mask on,” said Medina, a graduate and part-time professor at Mount Saint Mary’s University of Los Angeles.
Yet the past year has been particularly difficult, as he had been a nurse for less than a year when the coronavirus pandemic struck. Medina used to see patients leave the hospital shortly after arrival. With Covid-19, he wasn’t so sure the majority of his patients, mostly Latin Americans, would leave that quickly.
The pandemic has disproportionately hit Latinos across the country, who are already at a disadvantage because they are likely to work in frontline jobs and have the highest uninsured rates. Liz Guevara, 31, a nursing manager at La Clinica del Pueblo in Washington, DC, has seen a majority of Latino patients during the pandemic, and has found knowing Spanish and being Latina a great help; the Washington area has a large Central American population.
“We have to be culturally competent. Just because a provider speaks Spanish that the patient will be comfortable talking about their pain,” she said. “Patients are more reluctant to speak to a provider if they cannot express themselves fully.”
Beyond the language, it’s about understanding different customs and cultures – and some of the challenges many families face. Guevara, who arrived in the United States when she was 6, said her parents struggled to access health care, which motivated her to study health care disparities, including including the lack of Latino providers. This realization led her to a career in public health nursing. As someone who lacked a mentor when entering the field, she is passionate about the impact Latinos can have in the profession, whether through mentorship or programs.
What the numbers look like
A nursing degree can offer many career opportunities, from a trauma nurse to a newborn childcare worker with a median salary of $ 75,330, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Yet the number of Latino nurses is disproportionate to the size of its demographics. According to the recent census, nearly one in five people in the country is Hispanic, but the Department of Health and Human Services found in a 2017 analysis that of 3.3 million registered nurses, only 5, 7% were Latinos; 73.5% were white.
It’s better than when Antonia Villarruel, the dean of nursing at the University of Pennsylvania, started – so it was only 2% – but there’s still a long way to go to be done. improve.
Villarruel has said for years that structural barriers prevent more Latinos from entering nursing. Education is the first hurdle, and it goes beyond a high school diploma. High schools with predominantly Latino student bodies are found in underserved communities, Villarruel said, and students are not getting the science classes they need to enter nursing.
“So if you don’t come from a good high school, get good grades in science, it’s not easy,” she said. “There are barriers almost at every crossroads you walk through.”
Adrianna Nava of Chicago, president of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses, or NAHN, said barriers affecting the numbers of Latin American nurses include lack of access to finances to pay for their education and a mentors lockdown for help them navigate the profession. Some immigrants may navigate questions about status when trying to get an education.
Nava, who heads more than 1,700 NAHN members while leading a quality service at the hospital, said Latin American nurses play an important role in ensuring that more Hispanics receive quality health care – which was particularly important during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We also bring with us this perspective on how to reduce health disparities in order to improve care and ensure that patients are not treated differently because of their ethnicity or race,” said she declared.
Villarruel, who grew up in a Mexican family in Detroit and now runs a nursing school that has been ranked as the best in the world – tells all of his Latino students the importance of being fluent in Spanish, as patients will assume that they can speak it. Like Nava, she said it goes beyond language.
“It helps build that relationship – familiarity and acceptance – that is so important when people are dealing with illness,” she said.
Exposing young people to the right things early
To create opportunities for Latinos interested in entering nursing, it is important to understand the multiple paths to enter the profession, experts said.
The most common path to becoming a registered nurse is to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from an accredited nursing program, followed by two years of advanced nursing, clinical training, and passing the NCLEX-RN, a standardized test required to become a registered nurse. The graduation process can take three to four years, and it is possible to earn associate’s degrees at community colleges, but bachelor’s degrees are more in demand.
There are faster paths, such as Accelerated Nursing Programs, like Penn’s BSN Accelerated Second Degree Admissions, which can take 12 to 18 months and are for students who have earned a bachelor’s degree in other subjects. . Yet with the undergraduate prerequisites and required science courses for nursing schools – which are competitive – reaching the finish line can be difficult.
This is why it is essential to know the options at a young age. High school guidance counselors play an important role in encouraging students to consider nursing before entering college, Villarruel said. Colleges can also play an active role by reaching out to high schools that have Latino students, fostering relationships with them, and even having help from alumni.
College education is expensive, but Villarruel said options to prevent students from being dissuaded from pursuing a nursing education were to attend community colleges to cut costs and apply to schools with good quality. financial aid. Depending on the school, an accepted student may not have to take out loans.
To address the Latinas shortage in particular, Hispanic Star and NurseHeroes.org have collaborated to create a scholarship program, Hispanic Star Nurse Heroes, to create opportunities in the healthcare industry. The fund includes a donation of $ 150,000 that will give 20 future nurses $ 7,500 each to cover tuition costs. The goal will be to raise $ 7.5 million for 1,000 Latinas and, since 92% of nurses are women, the fund expects applicants to be women, but specifies that the program is open to all. Latinos.
“Latinas make great nurses – but the journey to a career in nursing can be difficult, as many Latinas continue to work while going to school,” Nava said in a statement. “A scholarship would really reduce the financial burden so Latinas could focus on their studies – on their careers.
Other opportunities include NAHN’s partnership with the University of Alabama, which focuses on preparing 80 Latin American graduate nurses to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree as part of their college programs. With a grant of $ 1.7 million over four years, the BAMA-Latino project, aimed at nurses with full-time employment, is available to residents of certain states. Additional resources include the College Health Scholars program created by the National Hispanic Medical Association, which provides Hispanic students with resources for academic, professional, and financial assistance to enter the healthcare workforce.
Nava said colleges should make concentrated efforts to hire racially and ethnically diverse faculty members. Representation is important, she said, and the barriers to entering academia are visible; less than 5 percent of full-time faculty at post-secondary institutions in 2018 were Latinos.
Latin American nurses played an important role during the pandemic, Villarruel said, working in their communities and encouraging people to get tested and vaccinated. They were also there to answer questions from Covid-19 patients who had to be isolated with restrictions on visitors. She said she was thinking of her Mexican father, who wouldn’t have felt comfortable speaking English.
“If you were there and you didn’t have someone who spoke your same language or knew how important it was for you to connect with your family, it only increases the isolation that exists. “said Villarruel. “Having to be in a place where he would have to fend for himself – super scary.”
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