Simply put, Kelly Prado is a bicultural and bilingual board-certified Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, but as one can guess, there was nothing simple about her journey to get there. She was born in England and raised in Colombia, then moved to Colorado in 1999 to pursue her dream of studying psychology. The “American Dream” was a central motivator throughout Prado’s life. She acknowledges that everyone understands the concept of the American Dream, but that our individual perspectives and life experiences mold it into something different for each person. “Our goals are to always follow our own dream,” she says.
As she was beginning the process of studying in the United States, Prado encountered obstacles that blocked her path to study psychology. The first obstacle she had to face was her English, and she quickly realized she needed to start with the basics. “As an immigrant Latina, language and communication were very difficult,” Prado remembers. So began her years of taking English as a Second Language courses and absorbing US culture, US money, and how to traverse the legalities as an international student.
Amid these challenges, Prado began to feel defeated and distracted from her goal. Luckily, she was able to get advice from an advisor at Denver Community College. Prado describes this person as an advisor who would help immigrant students with registration for classes and connect them to others with similar situations in the community. For Prado, this first experience with a mentor illustrated the importance of guidance in moving toward her goals.
After two years of ESL courses and finally obtaining the correct student visa, Prado entered into her first psychology class. Unfortunately, this class didn’t go as expected. “I hated it,” she says of the course. “It was a basic course, but I didn’t feel like I could communicate yet. I was self-conscious of my English. It was my first experience in a classroom with native speakers and I was intimidated.” This ended up in Prado dropping the class and taking a semester off to evaluate her goals.
Knowing that she needed to keep moving forward with classes, Prado began science courses. In biology she found subject matter that was fun, and the people she met inspired her to look into medical school leading her towards pre-med informational sessions. Unfortunately, Prado faced more obstacles.
Prado attended several pre-med sessions and even had the opportunity to meet with the professor in charge. At this point in her life, her accomplishments as an immigrant Latina were remarkable. However, the professor leading the informational pre-med sessions greatly deflated her dreams of medical school. He saw her 3.75 GPA and was not impressed, declaring that Prado would need a 4.0 or better, as well as 5000 volunteer hours and reference letters from all of her professors. This professor dissuaded Prado from believing she was medical school material. “He didn’t believe in me. My dreams were crushed. But I realized that sometimes we need broken dreams. This was the beginning of my new direction in life.”
Kelly Prado, PMHNP-BC, RXN was the first presenter for ENVEST: Empowerment Necessitates Value, Effort, Sacrifice, and Time, an event hosted by Future Voices. Future Voices is a student organization advocating for diversity, equity, and inclusion within the College of Nursing. Their mission is to amplify the voices of the underrepresented, create a safe space in our classrooms, hold the school accountable, and facilitate hard conversations. They work closely with the CU College of Nursing Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity Committee. You can learn more about Future Voices activities here.
Thinking that perhaps a major in biology was the path for her, Prado continued those courses at Metropolitan State University while exploring other options such as Nursing and PA school. This is when she began seriously considering nursing.
Prado’s life path towards her nursing career began at a public health clinic serving a low income population, many of which were Spanish speakers. In addition to her role as a nutrition educator, she acted as a translator for the practice. Prado noticed that the clinic was “run by nurses and nurse practitioners. They were amazing and in charge of every element of the clinic,” she says. “I saw how much could be done with a nursing degree.”
Inspired by a doctor and mentor from Peru who suggest the University of Colorado College of Nursing, Prado took pre-requisite nursing courses and applied to the BSN program – and was rejected. “I was sad and cried, but I also believed in myself and saw myself as a nurse, so I applied again the next year.” This time around, Prado was accepted. She began her nursing journey at CU Nursing in January of 2009 after graduating from Metropolitan State in December of 2008 with a BS in Biology and a minor in nutrition.
Advocating for her needs as a student was important to Prado. She didn’t particularly enjoy her hospital clinical time, so she requested a senior practicum placement elsewhere, and landed at the Sheridan Health Services where she met Dr. Vicki Erickson. Around CU Nursing, Dr. Erickson was known for her innovation and leadership in faculty and clinical practices. “Dr. Erickson taught me how to be a leader and showed me the power of the Nurse Practitioner. She was compassionate with the Latino community and encouraged me to become an NP,” Prado says.
After graduating with another BS, but now in Nursing, in 2010 and passing her boards, Prado was officially an RN – a dream that she manifested and accomplished. Prado joined the workforce as an RN and interpreter but felt the calling towards Nurse Practitioner. Remembering that she had originally wanted to become a psychologist, Prado blended all of her passions and entered the psychiatric nurse practitioner program at CU College of Nursing, from which she graduated in 2012. “The program helped me apply what I was learning,” Prado attests. “I grew to understand and lean on my life experiences.”
To young professionals entering the workforce, Prado suggests learning how to sell yourself to hiring managers. “I noticed the pay gap and knew that I needed to advocate for myself to receive good offers.” Former classmates and professors were shocked at the salary offers she received. Also, she learned that a healthy culture was important for longevity and happiness in any position. Soon Prado found herself mentoring, helping younger nurses and soon-to-be nurses discover how to network and obtain top job offers.
Today, Prado is running her own private practice: Aspen Leaf Holistic Mental Health Care. “It was not easy to start this practice. During school, you don’t learn much about the business side of things, so I researched and taught myself everything I needed to obtain this dream,” Prado says, referencing her perspective of the American Dream. “I wanted to bring my roots as a Latina into my treatments, including supplements and herbal treatments.” She pursued a fellowship in Integrative Psychiatry and is currently certified as a Psychiatric Provider in Integrative Psychiatry. Prado has three offices where she treats patients and trains NPs in integrative psychiatry.
Having learned from mentors throughout her life, Prado encourages her mentees to believe in themselves. “Even if others knock your confidence, you can do it,” she urges. “See obstacles as challenges. Keep growing and don’t give up.”