Despite having the bilingual skills so desperately needed in the nursing industry today, many Hispanic nurses face steep challenges in their nursing careers. Educational demands, financial constraints, and family responsibilities all pull on the resources of Hispanic nurses around the country.
“Many are in jobs already and with that are their everyday responsibilities,” says Maria Elena Pina Fonti, MA, RN, president of the New York Chapter of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses and an associate professor at Helene Fuld College of Nursing. Because of the emphasis on family priority in many Latino cultures, Hispanic nurses might be supporting members of their immediate and extended family including parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, and uncles. They might even be contributing to homes in their country of origin, says Fonti, all of which might limit their financial resources for paying for more school.
“They are straddling the worlds of work and educational development,” says Fonti. “Sometimes this is difficult for them because of everything else they carry on their shoulders.”
Fonti says one of the changes that will help Hispanics in nursing school is to see more people like them in academia. She recalls one student of hers who years ago did not participate in class much. When Fonti asked her why, the young woman said she was uncomfortable speaking up with an accent that people sometimes didn't understand.
But Fonti uses this example as a great way for Latino nurses to understand their inherent worth as a nurse. “I told her, 'If you have an accent, it is because you know more than one language. If you speak more than one language you are already ahead of the group,'” recalls Fonti. “When you go out into the world, the hospital will benefit from the people who speak a second language. You need to look at it as a positive.”
If people don't understand your accent, she says, they will need to take the time to pay closer attention. “The big point, coming from an academic discipline in nursing,” says Fonti, “is to have more people who are reflective of the student body.”
And for the financial challenges, Fonti says associations and nursing organizations are a “strong pillar of support.” Nurses are able to develop professionally through these organizations, network, and find both formal and informal mentors. Many organizations also offer scholarships.
“We have to let them know it is something that is out there to help them,” says Fonti of scholarships and financial aid. Many Hispanic students don't apply for scholarships because some feel doing so will single them out in a negative way, says Fonti. But in the long run, the more Latino nurses who can advance into academia and into hospital leadership positions will help develop the profession and the health of the nation at large.
Like other minority nurses who face challenges, Hispanic nurses have their own unique obstacles. “Every little step will help,” says Fonti. “The solution isn't coming tomorrow, but we can chip away at it every day.”