First-generation college graduate Lori Duarte, RN, can’t seem to get enough education. With a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s degree in liberal arts, her career and educational journey ultimately led her to nursing.
After she graduates from the University of Colorado College of Nursing’s RN to BS in Nursing Pathway this month, Duarte will begin studies at CU Nursing’s Family Nurse Practitioner program in January, 2023.
Duarte, 42, currently works as a nurse at a family health clinic in Lafayette that largely serves the Hispanic community. She says becoming a family nurse practitioner is the next logical step in her career’s evolution.
“I’d like to have a better understanding of the diagnosis and how to treat it,” Duarte says. “It would be great to continue serving the Hispanic population. I see myself and my family in that population.”
Winding road from Texas
Originally from Corpus Christi, Texas, Duarte grew up in a tight-knit Hispanic family with working-class parents. Though her siblings and family graduated from high school, Duarte was highly encouraged by her mother to take her education to the next level.
“I don’t think I resisted the idea of going to college – I was always all for it,” she says. “But when I graduated, I didn’t feel like I was finished learning.”
Duarte’s post-collegiate career led her to advocacy work at a reproductive rights organization in Washington, D.C. Then she met her future husband, moved to Seattle, and worked for a university. She relocated to Austin, Texas to serve a county commissioner. Her life’s work – combined with having children – piqued her interest in nursing.
“I was amazed by the women on my birth team. I wanted my daughter to grow and find inspiration in women like these. Then I thought ‘why can’t that be me?’ At that point, I had worked in advocacy, policy, and infrastructure and was intrigued about nursing as a way of putting it all together,” she says. “I wanted to learn more about the infrastructure of the body, so to speak, and communicate it back to people.”
Lori Duarte and her parents
While her husband continued working in Seattle, Duarte enrolled in a nursing program in Corpus Christi. She moved back into her childhood home after her mother offered to care for her two kids while she was earning her RN credentials.
Unfortunately, not long after the move, Duarte’s mother was diagnosed with cancer. Despite the diagnosis, Duarte stuck with the RN program through her mother’s treatments and ultimate death in August of 2019.
“She was active until the end and even road-tripped to see Mount Rushmore, but July was her last good month,” Duarte says.
After taking a semester off to grieve, Duarte resumed her RN studies at the beginning of 2020 and finished the program by the end of that year.
“In many ways, I feel like I am in nursing because of her,” Duarte says of her late mother. “She was the most supportive of my serendipitous career path.”
Finding a home in Colorado
Lori Duarte with her family
By enrolling in the RN to BS in Nursing program at CU Nursing and working at a federally qualified health center in Lafayette, Duarte and her husband now live at a midpoint between her family in Texas and his family in Washington state. She says the fully online program at CU Nursing gave her the ability to further her education and connect with parts of her life, like her career and family, more fully.
Duarte would like to continue serving immigrant families and is working on becoming fluent in Spanish.
“Spanish is a touchy subject for me because the language got lost in assimilation with my generation, so I’ve had to work hard to learn it,” she says. “My parents spoke it as a ‘secret language’ between them. I can create a rapport and conduct assessments, sometimes I need an interpreter.”
She says she likes working with the clinic’s clientele and feels she is healing the community that raised her.
Looking to the future
Though she’s currently focused on nursing, Duarte is intrigued with the idea of combining the full range of her educational and career experience.
“I’m interested in seeing how my advocacy work and healthcare work will come together,” she says.
Her advice to future students in the RN to BSN in Nursing program: “Self-doubt is such a time suck,” she says. “Challenge your negative mental models and don’t get stuck in them.”