When Kimberly Morales-Ortiz was a child, she remembers going to a healthcare clinic with her grandmother who has diabetes. The nurses spoke Spanish with her grandmother, getting her engaged in her own treatment.
“It made the experience less scary and less stressful. So, at that age, I saw how important it was to have nurses who looked like my Mexican grandmother. Now, she always talks about her experience with providers being the best when they spoke Spanish because she was able to connect with them on a deeper level, understand her care plan and help with the decisions,” says Morales-Ortiz, BSN graduate May 2023.
Ever since then, Morales-Ortiz, who also speaks Spanish, has wanted to go into healthcare and help immigrant women. That’s why she’s earning a bachelor of science in nursing degree this May at the University of Colorado College of Nursing at the Anschutz Medical Campus.
During her studies, she’s also realized most nurses today are White/Caucasian – 80% - and don’t speak a second language. The Census Bureau reports there were some 62.6 million Hispanics in the U.S. in 2021, making up 19% of the population, both new highs. But only 5.6% of the nurse workforce is Hispanic. When Morales-Ortiz graduates, she wants to help diversify the profession.
“I would love to see the nursing field represent the population it is serving. I think we need to prioritize getting more diverse students enrolled and provide support for them,” says Morales-Ortiz. “I would love to provide care in a culturally competent way where there is more connection and trust. I think there is a breakdown when interpreters are used and we miss a lot which can make the interactions feel a little robotic.”
Morales-Ortiz knows first-hand what it’s like to care for an underserved population. She has recently returned from a two-week trip to Guatemala with CU Nursing to care for impoverished communities for The Trifinio Project. The goal of the clinic is to improve the lives of the children and families of the employees working in the banana and palm oil plantations and people in the surrounding communities. Morales-Ortiz says it was a wonderful learning experience.
“It was definitely the most unique experience I've had in my life. I never thought I would get to see what care looks like in a foreign country at that level. It was eye opening to see all the similarities between our nurses here and the nurses there,” says Morales-Ortiz.
In Guatemala, the students shadowed nurses as they took care of people living without clean water, sanitation and comprehensive medical care. Morales-Ortiz encourages all undergrad students to go on the trip.
“There's so much to learn and see. Just going to a different country teaches you a lot. I think sometimes here in the United States, there are more systems in place and nurses are made to follow checklists without the connection and the shared decision-making in mind. Whereas over there, because it's so remote and resources are so limited, it's more about having open communication and doing what you can. I really love that it places focus on community building and community support, education and trust. It has allowed me to picture what I want my nursing practice to be like in the future.”