Profiles & Personalities

Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month

Amanda Lundberg, RN, BSN
September 13, 2023
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What is Hispanic Heritage Month?

Every year, between September 15th and October 15th, we roll out the carpet for Hispanic Heritage Month—a time bursting with colors, culture, and stories of resilience. Ever wondered about its essence? Well, this month is our heartfelt tribute to Hispanic and Latino Americans, celebrating their rich history, cultures, and contributions to society.

But here's the part that really resonates with us in scrubs: the incredible significance this month holds in our nursing community. Imagine the countless Hispanic nurses who, with each shift, have not only provided care but have also bridged cultural divides, added depth to patient understanding, and enriched our profession with their unique perspectives. Their journey, often punctuated with challenges—language barriers, cultural nuances, and more—stands testament to their unwavering dedication.

So, as we wear our badges and step into hospitals or clinics, let's carry the spirit of this month in our hearts. Because recognizing and celebrating our Hispanic colleagues isn't just about a month; it's about acknowledging the diverse beats that make the heart of nursing truly rhythmical.

Background of Hispanic Nurses in America

Have you ever paused amidst the hustle of hospital hallways to think about the footsteps we follow in? Well, let's turn back the clock and appreciate some heroes in our nursing history - the pioneering Hispanic nurses in America.

Picture this: From the warm sun-kissed terrains of Mexico to the streets of Puerto Rico, many Hispanic nurses embarked on a journey to the U.S., armed with a passion for care and a heart full of dreams. And oh, did they leave a mark! Beyond their nursing skills, they introduced a unique blend of compassion, cultural richness, and bilingual magic to their care.

Yet, the journey wasn't always smooth. They navigated challenges like language barriers, adapting to new medical norms, and even cultural misunderstandings. But with their characteristic resilience, they turned each challenge into an opportunity, setting the stage for generations to come.

So, next time we share a warm smile with a patient or navigate between languages, let's tip our hats to these trailblazers. They're proof that with passion and resilience, a nurse can truly make history.

Profiles of Influential Hispanic Nurses

As we immerse ourselves in Hispanic Heritage Month, let's honor some remarkable nursing luminaries:

Dr. Ildaura Murillo-Rohde

Born in Panama in 1920, Dr. Ildaura Murillo-Rohde profoundly influenced the nursing field. Recognizing a lack of representation and resources for Hispanic nurses in the U.S., she founded the National Association of Hispanic Nurses (NAHN) in 1975.

Dr. Rohde championed the presence of Latina nurses in academia, research, and public policy. Garnering numerous accolades, including a Fellowship from the American Academy of Nursing and a position with UNICEF, she remained devoted to the betterment of nursing. In her honor, NAHN presents awards and scholarships, underscoring her enduring impact on nursing education and leadership.

Sarah Gomez Erlach 

Sarah Gomez Erlach was born to Mexican Revolution refugee parents. She ultimately impacted nursing through public health efforts to provide for minority and underserved communities. After being the only Hispanic in her nursing school, Sarah led a decorated military career for 34 years, including critical roles during World War II, and later set up medical-nursing services in various locations in need. 

Her most enduring legacy is in Public Health. She played an instrumental role in creating California's Primary Health Care and Community Service Division, laying a foundation for primary care development and championing community participation. Her mark includes 75+ primary care clinics for migrant workers, a clinic named in her honor, and numerous accolades recognizing her unparalleled service.

Sylvia Mendez

Born in 1936, Sylvia Mendez was the focal child in the 1947 groundbreaking case, Mendez vs. Westminster. This landmark case, driven by her parents and community, challenged segregated education for children of Mexican descent in southern California. Their victory not only prohibited segregation in California's public schools but also set the stage for the national Brown vs. Board of Education ruling seven years later. 

Sylvia, dedicated her career to pediatric nursing, and later committed herself to recounting her family's integral role in education rights. In 2011, President Obama honored her advocacy, awarding her the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Hector Hugo Gonzalez

Hector Hugo Gonzalez, born in 1937 in Roma, Texas, is distinguished as the first Mexican-American Registered Nurse to earn a doctorate in the U.S. Educated at institutions including The University of Texas at Austin and The Catholic University of America, Gonzalez became a trailblazer in the nursing field. 

Gonzalez's leadership extended to the National Association of Hispanic Nurses and influential advisory councils. Notably, his vision inspired the transformation of San Antonio's Lutheran General Hospital into the acclaimed Texas Diabetes Institute. Hector's legacy continues today as he serves on San Antonio College's Nursing Education Advisory Committee.

Challenges and Opportunities

Ever had one of those shifts where everything seemed a tad bit more challenging? Now, imagine adding a layer of language barriers or cultural nuances to it. That’s a daily challenge many of our Hispanic nurse cohorts have encountered.

You see, while our Hispanic colleagues bring to the table an incredible blend of warmth, expertise, and cultural richness, they sometimes find themselves navigating through the fog of linguistic hiccups and cultural misunderstandings. 

But, you know what's heartwarming? Our healthcare community isn't just standing by. Hospitals are increasingly offering language training, cultural sensitivity workshops, and mentorship programs to bridge these gaps.

These challenges are carving out fantastic opportunities as people push for solutions. As we strive for more inclusivity, our patient care becomes richer, our teams more diverse, and our nursing community more united. 

Hispanic Cultural Considerations in Nursing

You know those moments when a patient's face lights up because you just get them? That connection often goes beyond medical knowledge—it's about cultural understanding. When it comes to our Hispanic patients, there are some beautiful layers of culture and tradition to unwrap.

First off, familia is everything. Extended family bonds are strong, and decisions often involve the whole clan. So, don't be surprised if you walk into a room expecting to chat with a patient and find yourself amidst a mini-family gathering!

Then, there's the rich tapestry of traditional beliefs and remedies. Abuelita might swear by her herbal tea remedy or a particular prayer, and while we integrate modern medicine, it's essential to approach these beliefs with respect and understanding.

Also, the language. Not all Hispanic patients prefer Spanish, but for those who do, our efforts in understanding or getting a translator can make all the difference.

Lastly, personalismo - a preference for warm, personal interactions. A smile, a gentle touch, or an understanding nod can go a long way.

So, next time you're caring for a Hispanic patient, embrace these cultural treasures. It's in these little details that we craft the most heartwarming healing journeys.

Ending Note

As we come upon Hispanic Heritage Month, it's an opportune moment to salute the relentless spirit and unyielding spirit of Hispanic nurses. Their stories, endeavors, and triumphs form the core of the nursing profession. Trusted stands by this legacy, championing diversity and inclusivity throughout the year.

This Hispanic Heritage Month, let's take a moment to applaud the fantastic Hispanic nurses, past and present, who have enriched the profession with their expertise, compassion, and culture.  Their legacy isn't merely about overcoming challenges; it's about enriching our profession with diverse perspectives, bringing cultural depth to patient care, and most importantly, reminding us of the collective, holistic spirit of nursing.

Each day we step into our scrubs, let's wear this legacy with pride. Let’s remember that every interaction, every treatment, and every reassuring word is built on the shoulders of countless nurses and their contributions, including our incredible Hispanic trailblazers. And as we chart notes, administer meds, or share a light moment with a colleague, let's ensure our respect and recognition for their contributions ripple through every action, every day.

Join Us in Celebrating and Advocating for Hispanic Heritage!

Inspired by these stories? Share this article with your fellow healthcare heroes and celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month with pride!

And if you aren’t already part of our community, sign up to join the Trusted family, where we believe in the power of diverse voices and continue to advocate for inclusivity all year round.

Amanda Lundberg, RN, BSN

Amanda is a nurse with over ten years of experience in clinical settings. She is an expert in family medicine as well as various specialties. Her holistic approach to health focuses on wellness and preventative care. She now writes content for health and wellness brands under her company name, Locksley Content.

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