Coverage in the Santa Fe New Mexican, October 28, 2012, read it on the New Mexican website here.

The Santa Fe-based Con Alma Health Foundation, in an effort to address a health care gap for New Mexico’s minority populations, secured a national grant recently to help diversify the state’s nursing workforce.

“There is a big disparity between our population in New Mexico and nurse providers,” said Dolores Roybal, Con Alma’s executive director. “If caregivers are of the same culture and speak the same language, patients have a higher satisfaction.” The foundation’s New Mexico Nursing Diversity Partnership Project hopes to recruit Hispanic nurses and promote “all levels of diversity in all forms — age, gender, ethnicity,” she said.

The project will kick off Monday with re-establishment of a New Mexico Hispanic Nurses Association from 3 to 5 p.m. at The University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center in Albuquerque.

Nurse Lisa Marie Turk, who grew up in Abiquiú, has had firsthand experience with the cultural divide between patients and caregivers. The nurse told the story of one Hispanic patient who had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer at the Española hospital. Some of the other nurses at the hospital became frustrated because the woman didn’t seem to want to deal with her illness, Turk said.

But Turk, after spending some time with the woman, began to understand that it was important for the patient to include her family in discussions about the disease. Family is a cultural focus for many Hispanic people, she explained. So, Turk helped the woman find a sensitive way to explain her diagnosis to her family members. After that, the woman was open to caring for herself and receiving treatment, said Turk, 28, who is pursuing a doctorate.

“Understanding cultural barriers and socioeconomic factors is very important,” she said. “You may ask them to do a plan of care, but if … it’s not aligned with their cultural beliefs, it’s not going to happen. If we aren’t sensitive to those needs or understand that, we are speaking in vain.”

Turk said she understood this patient’s perspective because her own cultural roots involve strong ties to her Aguilar family in Abiquiú.

Understanding patients’ needs — beyond medicine — translates into better care, according to the nonprofit Institute of Medicine. The organization reported in 2010 about inequities in health care for minorities.

Deborah Walker, who has a Master of Science in nursing and whose nursing career spans four decades, is leading the nursing project in New Mexico to help bridge that minority health care gap. Part of the work includes restarting a Hispanic nurses group to draw new nursing students and to support the nurses as they further their careers.

“I believe this is a tool that will get nurses resources and opportunities for leadership development, which isn’t there now,” Walker said.

Helen Alarid, a nurse of almost 30 years who has cared for cardiac patients at Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center and now teaches at Northern New Mexico College in Española, envisions the Hispanic group providing resources and mentorship.

“A lot of times, it’s about helping students find out what resources are available for nurses who want to continue their education,” she said. “There’s a huge need for practitioners, especially in rural areas, so it would be great to have nurses move beyond to the master’s level.”

Alarid said 85 percent of Northern’s enrollment is Hispanic students, and they come with socioeconomic challenges and inexperience with academic life. She said they are more likely to continue their education if they have role models who understand their challenges and can help them find solutions.

Turk, who serves on the project’s advisory committee, had never imagined she would be pursuing her doctorate when she was living in rural Abiquiú, 30 minutes from the closest college and an hour and a half from the nearest university. She was the first person in her family to graduate from college, so she didn’t have family mentors in academia.

But a few teachers and acquaintances served as role models for Turk. “I would have never been able to do it on my own,” she said. “It took others to show me the possibilities of what I could do.”

Alarid would also like to involve non-Hispanic nurses in the project — they could learn more about their Hispanic patients’ cultural preferences and differences, she said.

“You tend to trust people who are a lot like you and who you can identify with, but it’s not only racial lines,” she said. “It’s about having someone who can sit at your eye level and can really listen to you and understand you.”

Antonia Villarruel, associate dean at the University of Michigan School of Nursing, will be the featured speaker at the nursing project’s kickoff on Monday. She has an extensive background in health promotion and health disparities research, and will talk to nurses about developing their leadership skills. The group will then brainstorm ways to address health care disparities in their communities.

Villarruel believes nurses need to recognize their leadership capabilities — organizational skills, clinical expertise, a holistic viewpoint and the ability to bring people together — and bring a voice to the communities they serve, she said.

Villarruel has been a principal researcher on national studies and has held leadership positions on nursing and policy boards. “Often in boardrooms, people provide perspectives of what’s best for their profession or agency,” she said. “Nurses present what’s best for our patients and their families and the communities we serve.”

She said she hopes the Hispanic nurses in New Mexico will find a common voice and purpose.

“I would hope that through that voice and through that vision, they would increase the visibility of Latinos and Latina nurses in the state,” she said. “I think that opens the door for influencing the next generation, who may not have thought of nursing because they never saw nurses in leadership positions.”

Both Alarid and Turk have long-term visions for the New Mexico Hispanic Nurses Association. Alarid would like to see nurses visiting schools to interest students in nursing careers and to educate children about making healthy choices. Turk believes developing more leadership among Hispanic nurses will benefit everyone.

“Existing health disparities related to ethnicity are harmful for everyone,” she said.

In addition to re-establishing a group for Hispanic nurses, the New Mexico Nursing Diversity Partnership Project is strengthening the Native American Indian Nurses Association in the state, surveying minority nurses to understand their needs and compiling a statewide database of nurses to strengthen outreach efforts and networking opportunities.

Deborah Busemeyer is a freelance journalist in Santa Fe and a former communications director for the state Health Department. Contact her at dbusemeyer@gmail.com.

 


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