Growing up in a rough Denver neighborhood, Crystal Santos chose forensics as her future profession early on. She wanted to help people find closure after losing loved ones, especially to violence.
Although a volunteering stint with the medical examiner assisting with autopsies was “fascinating,” the funny and bubbly Santos decided working with dead people just didn’t satisfy her personality.
“Also, you work in basements with no windows.”
Mermaid photos courtesy: Magic Memories
So the first-generation college student, who earned her biology degree through the Daniels Scholarship Program and then went on to earn a master’s in biomedical science, needed a new mission.
That’s when she found nursing.
Student finds roundabout path to nursing
Santos took a job as a program assistant with the Division of Medical Oncology on the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.
“They see things in such a different perspective, because they see that life is fragile.” — Crystal Santos, CU Nursing student
“I started working with some of the nurses and asked to shadow some of them, and I fell in love with the impact they were having on their patients,” said Santos, who joined CU’s College of Nursing’s bachelor of science program in June.
“I know this isn’t how it’s always going to be, but the nurses just had the most grateful patients. And, it was even more about the impact their patients had on them,” she said. “It struck me: This is what I want to do.”
Attraction No. 1: nurses’ passion, humility
Despite the difficulty of working in oncology, Santos said passion and humility shone through in the nurses.
“They see things in such a different perspective, because they see that life is fragile. That was very powerful to me,” said Santos, who transforms into a mermaid at the Downtown Aquarium in Denver when she’s not in class.
Santos said that, like most people, she sometimes complained about “little things.” But veteran oncology nurses? Not so much, she said.
“One nurse said, after working for so many years in oncology, if I can go home and be with my loved ones, and I can wake up the next day and breathe, what more can I ask for?”
Attraction No. 2: CU Nursing’s clinical training
Santos set her sights on helping the underserved, and CU Nursing was a perfect fit.
“I heard about the DAWN Clinic, which serves the underserved and offers a lot of free services,” Santos said. “I know the students here run that clinic, and I thought: Wow, this school really cares about all people of all backgrounds.”
CU Nursing also has faculty-led clinics targeting the underserved, including Sheridan Health Services’ adult and pediatric clinics.
Now Santos, fluent in Spanish, volunteers as an interpreter with the DAWN clinic and has already been learning a lot, she said.
“There have been times I wanted to break down because I’m translating for a patient who is crying and wants help and hasn’t been heard before, and I’m able to provide that voice. It’s been pretty powerful.”