The original version of this post was first published in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Updated Sept 16, 2020.
In honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month, we’re spotlighting Hispanic nurses who are or have been trailblazers in their profession.
About 7.3% of nurses in the United States identify themselves as Hispanic or Latino, representing about 135,600 RNs and 51,800 LPNs, according to minoritynurse.com. Hispanic nurses, those who speak Spanish and/or are descended from Spanish-speaking populations, are more likely to be found in the West South Central (Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas), Pacific (Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington) and Mountain areas (Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming).
As the number of Hispanic nurses grows, so does their impact on the field of nursing. The following are some Hispanic nurse trailblazers everyone should know, including nurses who helped pave the way decades ago and ones who are making their impact now:
Murillo-Rohde helped found the National Association of Hispanic Nurses in 1975 after she felt the American Nurses Association wasn't meeting the needs of Hispanic nurses. A native of Panama, she wanted to help Hispanic nurses secure their education and serve their community. She started her career in San Antonio, which, despite having a large Hispanic population, had few Hispanic nurses. Murillo-Rohde continued her education in New York, working her way to a doctorate and a federal job reviewing grants, but also found no Latina nurses in her areas of research and public policy.
Murillo-Rohde served as faculty, professor, and dean of nursing at SUNY's School of Nursing and received other honors such as a fellowship from the American Academy of Nursing. A scholarship and award for Hispanic nurses are named in her honor.
Gonzalez was one of the founding members of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses and earned his bachelor's and master's degrees before serving in the United States Army Nurse Corps as a captain. In 1974, he became the first Mexican-American registered nurse in the U.S. to earn a doctorate and went on to serve on the board of directors for District 8 of the Texas Nurses Association and became its first Hispanic and male president.
Gonzalez later chaired the Department of Nursing Education at San Antonio College, where he helped develop programs that would allow nurses to complete their degrees in the evening. Under his leadership, the department also had one of the highest minority and male student enrollments and the largest number of qualified minority faculty in the U.S.
Villaescusa received her bachelor's and master's degrees before becoming the only Hispanic Public Health Supervisor while working in Los Angeles. She was also the first Hispanic nurse to be appointed health administrator in the Department of Health, Education and Welfare and the first Mexican-American chief nurse consultant in the Office of Maternal & Child Health.
In 1985, she assisted the surgeon general with the Hispanic Health Initiative on the west coast and also served on the Task Force for Minority Health. Villaescusa went on to serve as president of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses.
Ortiz-Morales has earned her doctorate and works as a nurse practitioner, providing care to about 2,500 patients through the Montefiore Medical Center Infectious Diseases Clinic in New York City. She's the HIV-HCV (hepatitis C virus) program coordinator and evaluates the clinic's patients who have both HIV and HCV.
The vast majority of her patients are African-American and Hispanic, and the clinic provides a multidisciplinary approach that includes psychiatrists, dermatologists and nursing staff.
Florez is an assistant nursing professor at DePaul University and earned a doctorate in nursing science. She has served as president of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses-Illinois Chapter and has worked to support and increase the number of Hispanic nurses.
She has earned several awards and served as a leader in many organizations in an effort to address health disparities within the Latino community.