The theme of Hispanic Heritage Month 2021 is “Esperanza: A Celebration of Hispanic Heritage and Hope.” It is an open invitation to reflect on how great our tomorrow can be if we hold onto our resilience and hope and encourages us to reflect on all of the contributions Hispanics have made in the past and will continue to make in the future. In that spirit, we caught up with University of Arizona College of Nursing Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) student Alejandra Vasquez, who will graduate this December. Vasquez told us about her nursing journey, her thoughts about the importance of diversity in the nursing workforce and her pride in her own Hispanic heritage.
Born in Ventura, California to a family of migrant farmworkers, Vasquez spent her earliest years in Southern California before her father moved the family across the border to Mexico. “Even after moving, my family continued to live as migrant farmworkers,” she says. “Every year we would go back and forth between home and different areas of southern California, chasing the seasons and the dollars.” She has fond memories of growing up, running barefoot among onion, carrot, melon, and alfalfa fields, jojoba groves, and grapevines.
“Hispanic Heritage Month is a time to relish not just in my ethnic and cultural heritage, but that of all my Hispanic brothers and sisters. The older I become and the more experiences I gain, I growingly appreciate the beauty of sharing and celebrating each other’s worlds," ~ Alejandra Vasquez, UArizona Nursing DNP Student
School in Mexico was tough but also enriching. Overcoming a challenging academic regimen, a lack of resources, and grueling summers bereft of air conditioning, coolers, or fans, Vasquez still has many positive memories. “As hard as it was, I remember every moment with so much love, and would not have it any other way,” she says. “In many ways I did not understand then, these experiences developed resilience in me.”
After completing middle school in Mexico, Vasquez sought out an American education. Thanks to sacrifices from her family, she was able to attend high school in Yuma, Ariz., which she proudly points out was the birthplace of American labor leader and civil rights activist Cesar Chavez.
Can you describe your career as a nurse?
I would describe my career as challenging, exciting, and versatile. Nursing has provided me with abundant opportunities, and it has been nothing short of amazing at every chapter. It regularly teaches me new skills and teaches me to dig deep and build character.
After college graduation, I received a position on the medical and cardiovascular ICU of our local hospital and got to live one of my career dreams of being an intensive care nurse. Three years later, the cardiac catheterization lab adopted me. Cath lab work was exciting and literally electrifying, as I had the opportunity to pioneer the electrophysiology lab of our rural yet developing hometown.
A few years later, I transitioned into the ultimate dream of my nursing career: becoming a flight nurse. After the air medical transport company employing me underwent vast organizational changes, my career path led me to dialysis and oncology nursing. Currently, I work with a very special and vulnerable population as a correctional health nurse. Here I can use all my experiences, knowledge, skills, and expertise to help a grossly underserved and marginalized population in more ways than I could’ve imagined. My role as a correctional nurse has been, by far, one of the most gratifying of career.
What led you to enter the field of higher education?
After an eight-year educational hiatus, I realized I had strayed too long from my educational path. I don’t regret breaking away for the time I did. I delved into meaningful health-related ventures, and it was during that space that I got to know myself better and learn the mental and emotional skills I have now. However, I also realized I was facing the infamous career burn out, it knew was time to approach life and work differently.
It was time to grow. I knew there was much more I could give and do for my community, and I had a responsibility to continue to set an example for my family, my peers, and my community.
What other degrees do you hold?
My bachelor’s in nursing is the highest I achieved so far. During my time away from school, however, I obtained certifications and practiced as CrossFit level I and level II and USA Olympic weightlifting level I coach. In my opinion, these are equally as important and valuable as college education granted the sources and theories behind their disciplines. Physical health, and by extension, mental fortitude is founded in what these modalities teach. To be a better human and clinician, it is important to learn and embrace the aspects on the spectrum of wellness, so that we may incorporate these into the way we practice and promote health, while pushing the needle of wellness towards fitness.
How important it is for patients to see themselves in their healthcare providers and as members of their communities?
If the patient can relate with the provider, he or she is more likely to be dedicated and involved in treatments or lifestyle changes necessary to achieve optimal wellness and improved health.
The relationship between provider and patient is extremely pivotal for superior health and wellness across the lifespan. If the patients can relate to their providers, they are able to build a bonding connection. In this dynamic, healing goes beyond what the medical treatments and scripts dictate. I believe there is a powerful yet unseen power in a genuine relationship that reflects genuine care and interest, which can transform not just the patients’ health experience but the provider’s as well. While they are not easy to achieve or navigate, it is this type of relationship and connection that is transformative and holds potential for better healthcare beyond numbers and trends. I hope to lead healthcare to where this dynamic becomes more the norm than the pursuit of benchmarks and RVU’s.
What is the importance of Hispanic Heritage Month to you?
Hispanic Heritage Month is a time to relish not just in my ethnic and cultural heritage, but that of all my Hispanic brothers and sisters. The older I become and the more experiences I gain, I growingly appreciate the beauty of sharing and celebrating each other’s worlds. It is learning and honoring the sacrifices and successes of our ancestors. It is honoring the sacrifices and multiplying the arduous work of our parents.
It is a time to smile at the beauty of our brothers’ and sisters’ philosophies and ways of life, but also holding space for the darkness and suffering they have endured throughout time. It is a time to show understanding and support, but more importantly, promote that this celebration and respect should continue beyond just this month. It is a time to remember that we can rewrite those stories rooted in limitations and oppression which have too often been feed to us, into a future of successes and love. It is a time to remind each other that we are valuable and magnificent individually, and we are invaluable and marvelous all together.
What are your future plans?
After graduating, I will find a work environment or organization that takes genuine interest in helping me develop my professional skills and abilities to their extend and provide space for me to employ these. I will work with my surrounding rural communities to create partnerships focused on improving the health and health literacy of the underserved. I will develop and provide opportunities for other individuals with similar backgrounds as mine through creation of a scholarship program and employment opportunities. Eventually, I will specialize in dermatology and aesthetic medicine and open a successful practice that will promote and develop self-esteem and personal development, especially in those who suffer traumas from abusive relationships.