Interview by Laura Lesley
Norma G. Cuellar, PhD, RN, FAAN, is president of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses. She earned her PhD from the UAB School of Nursing in 1997 and is a professor at the University of Alabama Capstone College of Nursing. Currently the editor-in-chief of the Journal of Transcultural Nursing, Cuellar has published in peer review journals as well as several book chapters related to her research area: Restless Leg Syndrome, Sleep, Complementary and Alternative Health Care. She has practiced in a variety of health care settings and has taught in nursing programs for nearly 30 years.
Q: Discuss the importance of diversity in nursing and what it means to you.
A: By the year 2050, more than 50 percent of the U.S. population will be from underrepresented or minority populations. The students we are teaching now will be responsible for caring for a variety of patients who represent a diverse background including race, ethnicity, age, gender, sexual identity and religion — among other newly identified cultural groups. As our future nurse leaders, students must be prepared to represent these cultural groups in a fair, just manner.
Diversity is one of the most important concepts we can encourage in nursing programs at all levels. When students, faculty and staff are diverse, we all learn different perspectives from each other.
Diverse faculty is important, as students should see educated, competent health care providers representing a variety of cultural groups for role modeling and mentoring. For me, diversity means respecting all people for what they believe and stand for. I may not agree with what they think or what their decisions are, but helping them reach their own health care goals is my obligation as a registered nurse and health care provider. We must all be champions for diversity, and I hope that is instilled through our nursing education.
Q: How can nurses, no matter where they are in their career, improve culturally competent care?
A: Improving culturally competent care doesn’t just happen. You have to be consciously aware of your actions and understand what your unconscious biases are. Many people think they have none but everyone has an unconscious bias. Being aware of your unconscious bias is a very important first step. And just because you are a minority or underrepresented does not mean you provide culturally competent care. For some, it is more of a bias and just as detrimental to health care.
And culturally competent care is not a one-time learning event. Just like our communities change, so does the cultural competency skill set. Being a cultural life-long learner is essential to becoming culturally competent.
Q: What is your vision for the future of nurses of Hispanic descent?
A: I want Latino nurses to be empowered by the skills that they have. Be leaders and let people know that we must have healthy Latinos to have healthy communities. I want to see a Latino nurse on every health care panel or board helping make decisions about our communities. I want to see Latinos get advanced degrees to become nurse practitioners, CRNAs, midwives, administrators, educators and researchers. I want to see more Latino nurses support the National Association of Hispanic Nurses to help us advance health care outcomes of Latino communities.
Q: What career advice would you provide a young Hispanic person considering nursing as a career?
A: Nursing is an amazing profession. It is up to you as a Latino nurse to understand how important you are to improve the health care of Latinos in your community. You must always be a life-long learner. Do not stop in your education until you earn a terminal degree. We need Latino leaders seated at the table making decisions about our communities. Currently, only 5 percent of registered nurses are Latinos, yet the Latino population is 17 percent. Latino nurses with doctoral degrees make up less than 1 percent of those who receive doctorates. We must continue in our education. We are obligated to be better and to be the best we can be for our Latino communities to improve the health care of our families and children.
There is a saying that “birds of a feather flock together.” If you want to be a leader, then surround yourself with leaders who understand what it means to be a Latino nurse leader. Join the National Association of Hispanic Nurses and receive mentorship through “la familia.”
Don’t forget your roots and the need for qualified health care providers, health care access, affordable insurance and culturally congruent health care providers in our Latino communities. As our Latino population grows, you will be faced with these health care issues. Nursing is not just about providing bedside clinical practice — it extends to our communities and policy making to improve health care.
Q: How did your experiences in the UABSON PhD program shape the leadership skills you use today as President of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses?
A: Going through the UABSON PhD program taught me more than the development of nursing science. It taught me to think critically and accept that many people have different theoretical perspectives that make us diverse contributors to society. During a doctoral program, your ego must be checked at the door. You are there to learn and you have to be open to learning from all people. I also believe that being engaged in the school is very important. This includes being available to experience all a university offers, such as having mentors available, participating in governance and attending scholastic events that offer an experiential learning. A doctoral program helps you to develop into a leader who can listen to both sides of the story and make decisions based on the need of all, rather than the need of the few. The UABSON PhD program instilled perseverance and commitment in me that I use every day as President of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses.
More on the Alabama Hispanic Nurses Association:
As a group supporting efforts to increase the number of Hispanics entering health care and nursing, the Alabama chapter of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses (NAHN) is actively seeking new members.
Led by Chapter President Grace Grau, DNP, CRNP, ACNP-BC, AACC, who holds a dual appointment as instructor in the UAB School of Nursing and as a nurse practitioner with UAB Medicine, the chapter’s mission is to advance health in Hispanic communities and to lead, promote and advocate for educational, professional and leadership opportunities for Hispanic nurses.
“There are many benefits to chapter membership,” said Grau. “We provide educational opportunities to members, as well as the community. We also provide information on employment, scholarships and upcoming events that would be of interest to our members.”
“We work to recruit additional Latinos into the nursing profession because, while Latinos represent 18 percent of the U.S. population, less than 7 percent of the nursing workforce is of Latino descent.”
According to NAHN, members advocate, educate, volunteer, seek partnerships and conduct programming in Hispanic communities to improve outcomes, elevate literacy, heighten education and influence policy. With a network of more than 44 chapters nationally, the organization is rapidly growing.
“Since the Alabama chapter’s inception two years ago, members have participated in two grants supported by the National Institutes of Health aiming to improve health outcomes of Hispanic diabetic patients and understand differences amongst ethnicities leading to diseases or specific responses to therapies,” said Grau.
In addition to scholarship, the chapter has participated in multiple community health fairs providing health screenings, education on symptom identification of cardiovascular diseases and nursing as a career.
“Joining your local NAHN chapter is easy, and student memberships are available, too,” said Grau. “Members do not have to be Hispanic, only an interest in advancing the causes of Hispanic/Latino communities.”
For more information on joining the Alabama chapter, visit alnahn.nursingnetwork.com.