With nearly two decades of nursing under his belt and as the current president of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses, Jose Alejandro now laughs when he recalls his first thoughts about being a nurse.
Working as a journalist for the U.S. Military in the Army, Alejandro remembers being a little squeamish. “I used to tell people I couldn't stand the sight of blood,” he says with a laugh. “I had that notion in my head.”
But Alejandro's career took a new turn when his position was eliminated and he had the choice to become a vocational nurse or a chef. That was when he discovered something new about the career. “Nursing is so diverse,” he says. “You have so many options and you can still be a nurse.”
With choices that included becoming a nurse in the business, clinic, or even corporate setting, Alejandro's eyes opened to the possibilities. And he hopes many Hispanic nurses will be encouraged to take on new roles and work toward getting advanced degrees, despite the obstacles, because the need for their skills is great.
Alejandro dove into nursing training first in vocational nursing and then going on to earn a bachelor's and master's degree in nursing, and several advanced degrees. “It ended up being a perfect fit,” he says. “If it wasn't for the military, I never would have known.”
Alejandro's career has included jobs as varied as acting as the director of case management, being a nursing director, and an interim chief nursing officer. All the positions honed his nursing and communication skills, but also gave him the chance to use other talents like setting strategic goals. His two-year term as president of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses, which ends in July 2014, also allows him to bring a business focus to the organization.
He has learned valuable lessons with each post and says being in a national professional organization has certainly helped him make connections with others in the industry. But he also wants other nurses to realize sometimes the best advice comes from those you see on a regular shift.
“I think the big thing is to be open to mentorship,” he says, “and that can be people you work for or people who work for you.” Alejandro, for instance, has been helped enormously by younger staff whose social media skills surpass his own.
And Alejandro sees the future as especially bright for Hispanic nurses. “The big thing for nurses entering the field is that there are more opportunities today,” he says. Noting a brain drain as older nurses retire, Alejandro says new nurses, although underrepresented as a whole in the field, are a huge benefit to the Hispanic population and needed especially as Hispanic populations increase across the country. “They are in high demand,” he notes. “They are subject matter experts when it comes to cultural diversity, and being bilingual is a commodity.”
The biggest challenge he sees is to increase the numbers of Hispanic nurses with advanced degrees. “The biggest barriers are how to balance a professional career and family and your education,” says Alejandro. But with more programs that promote advanced education in the Hispanic community, even a slow increase in numbers will help.