Erica Cardenas

A profession of heart and hand

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Lorraine Alvarez’s life TOOK an unexpected twist at the age of 16 as she and her friends were driving down the highway.

“We came upon a huge dust cloud and pulled over since we couldn’t see a thing,” says Alvarez. “When we got out of our car, we realized we were the first on scene of a head-on collision. I remember the mother lying on the ground yelling, ‘¡Mis hijas, mis hijas!’ as four lifeless bodies laid on the road.”

Alvarez says she so desperately wanted to help, that she knew right then what she wanted to do with her life and what she would eventually become.

Flash forward to today. The 32-year-old mother of two works as a registered nurse (RN) for the Pediatric Emergency Department at Cardon Children’s Medical Center, a Banner Health facility in Mesa. Six years after her life-changing moment, Alvarez became an RN, and has practiced in the pediatric emergency department for the last three years.

Her duties as a staff RN include physically assessing patients from head to toe, monitoring vital signs, obtaining lab specimens and initiating x-rays. On top of that, she double as charge nurse, overseeing her unit and assuring the department is flowing efficiently.

Alvarez gives us a glimpse into her world.

“Before working in the emergency department, I used to work in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU),” she explains. “My proudest moment was caring for a baby who suffered from cystic fibrosis. I was his primary nurse and I watched him go through many intestinal surgeries and multiple infections. He was in the NICU for three months, but he never gave up. When he was released, he was happy and healthy.”

Alvarez is bilingual and stresses how speaking both Spanish and English has helped her patients feel comfortable, as well as enabled her to be a more efficient nurse.

Her empathy and compassion for others is rooted deep in her soul. Perhaps best stated in the words of her abuelita: “No importa el color de la piel, importa más el color del corazón.” It matters not the color of one’s skin, but more importantly, the color of the heart.

Advocates of compassion

Alvarez’s path in life lead her to one of the most diverse of all healthcare professions, one that has garnered increased respect over the years. From doctors’ offices and assisted-living facilities to schools and laboratories, it’s difficult to understate the vital role nurses play in society.

And though it’s a profession that’s long been held in high esteem, recent studies show that Arizona must add nearly 50,000 registered nurses by 2017 to meet the state’s growing healthcare needs.

Here at home, Arizonans are served by 123 hospitals within 14 counties, and with every job at an Arizona hospital, an additional 1.5 jobs are generated in the state. So it’s no surprise that hospitals statewide are responding by working hard to retain nurses and offering bonuses and incentives to attract new ones. The demand for nurses is high, and local organizations have their sights set on recruiting and retaining nurses, Hispanic nurses in particular.

Dr. Norma Martinez Rogers, president of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses (NAHN), calls out that Hispanics are “seriously underrepresented in all health professions, with less than 5 percent serving as physicians, nurses and dentists.”

NAHN is working to combat these figures by providing equal access to educational and professional opportunities for Hispanic nurses. Their local Phoenix Valle del Sol chapter has now granted over $40,000 in scholarships to Hispanic nursing students, and their members range from nursing school freshmen to professionals in the clinical, educational and research fields.

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