In our January 2015 class in Woodburn, Oregon, one of the students had an unusual background. This is the story of a professional Mexican nurse who came to the United States to take care of the health of her child in 1989. We had questions.

What training do Mexican nurses receive?

How did she navigate the situation at a hospital in the United States when her child was a patient here?

How did she adjust to life in the United States?

She told us her story… in Spanish.

Graduada de la UNIVERSIDAD AUTÓNOMA DE GUERRERO, Chilpancingo, Guerrero.

María Díaz: Enfermera General en México son 3 años de Universidad y 1 año de servicio social.

1976 a 1980: Empecé la Universidad. Después de 2 años de clases, en el 5.° y 6.° semestre se hace un internado de 3 meses en el Hospital, en el cual uno puede aprender mucho dependiendo de sus habilidades, y trabaja en diferentes salas o departamentos:
(full Spanish text at the end of the article)

Here it is, in English. As we listened, it reminded us of very many immigrants we interpret for.

María’s story, as she wrote it (translated from Spanish for your benefit):

Graduate of UNIVERSIDAD AUTONOMA DE GUERRERO, Chilpancingo, Guerrero.

María Díaz: General Nurse. It takes 3 years of classroom studies and one year of supervised work.

1976 to 1980: My college education. After two years of school, in the fifth and sixth semesters (third year), we do an internship, in which a student may learn a lot depending on the student’s skills. The rotations are:

  • Neonatal
  • Women
  • Men
  • Pediatrics

During the third year, while doing the internship, students have to take classes either from 8 to 12 or from 2 to 6. The rest of the time they are full time interns, including weekends.

During the fourth year, students are given their social service appointments based on their grades. During the social service year, they are paid a monthly wage. After this year, the student returns to the University to submit the Certificate of Completion of Social Service, and is assigned four advisors for the professional thesis. Upon submitting the thesis, the student must defend it before a panel and take a practical exam at the Hospital. After passing these evaluations, the student obtains the degree of Generalist Nurse.

1980 to 1984: I worked at a Health Center as a Generalist Nurse, in a rural area with only one doctor and one nurse. We dealt with clinical consultations, vaccinations and family planning.

1984 to 1989: I worked for a hospital as Chief Nurse, supervising 10 nurses and 4 nursing interns. I coordinated the monthly schedules for all three shifts (morning, afternoon and night). There were only 15 beds, and the hospital took care of emergencies, childbirth, ambulatory patients, family planning, and tuberculosis treatment. I was responsible for the Health Centers in five rural communities and received monthly reports.

During that time, I got married and had two children. My second was born with a vascular ring around the esophagus, a hole in the left ventricle, he was missing a bone in his thumb, and his right earlobe was very small.

Because of our second son’s health issues, my husband returned to the United States, where he had previously lived for 10 years. He came to Tillamook, Oregon, because his father was here. He found work at a cattle ranch. As soon as he started to work, he got health insurance for the family so our son could get treatment. That is why I immigrated to the United States with a family member’s visitor visa in December of 1989.

That is when the nightmare many immigrants go through began for me. I felt mute, blind, and totally incapacitated because I couldn’t go anywhere, and even though I could walk I couldn’t go to the store and ask for something because I couldn’t speak. I felt mute. I saw things but couldn’t speak. I couldn’t speak English. I told myself that this had to change and started to go to the English classes at Tillamook Bay Community College twice a week.

I went to my child’s hospital appointments at the CDRC in Portland. After a year and a half in Tillamook, I took the driving test. I started to work at a restaurant in Tillamook, and worked there for five years. I started as a dishwasher and then prepared food. Then I went to a paintbrush factory and worked there for three years, and returned to the ESL classes, where they gave me an application that had been sent from Oregon State University, in Corvallis.

They were going to employ someone to work for the Hispanic community as a Promoter, and I was fortunate enough to be chosen. The salary was going to be paid by four organizations: the County Health Department, Tillamook Family Counseling, Tillamook Work Solution and Tillamook County General Hospital. Before starting to work, they trained me at Oregon State University on how to submit monthly reports. I worked with the Hispanic community and taught people how to access services in the community. I also provided transportation to medical appointments and helped fill out paperwork for the Oregon Health Plan and food stamps.

After eight months, the Tillamook County Health Department hired me full time and I started to do the same job, teaching the Hispanic community the services they could access at the Health Department Clinic. After this, the doctors found many patients with diabetes and sent me to Portland to be trained on diet for diabetic patients. With that information, I organized a group to discuss how to modify people’s diet, take medications, how often to go to the doctor, how often to do their blood tests, and what the A1C is. I started to work as an interpreter at the doctor’s office, and went to a training in Seattle, Washington, on normal childbirth classes. I helped the Hospital teach childbirth classes in Spanish. After all these trainings, I was promoted to Case Manager and I was trained to complete Oregon Health Plan paperwork. I provide transportation for patients to go to appointments with specialists and continue to interpret at the Health Department Clinic. I have been working at this organization for 14 years.

I continue to help and work for Hispanics, which I like to do. That is why I studied nursing.

María sat down. We were mesmerized. This was one of our own. She is an interpreter, a nurse, an immigrant, all in one. Her struggles represent the struggles of the people we interpret for. She helped us understand the challenges of the people we interpret for…

And now I understood the look on her face when she saw the Spanish book on nursing on the stack of medical terminology books that I matter-of-factly put on the table on the first day of medical terminology. She smiled like she hadn’t seen anything this nice for a million years, and I didn’t see the book again for months. She reconnected with something that had been lost to her for 26 years. She hadn’t seen a book about her profession in her language for that long!

María, we admire you. Thank you for sharing your story. Thank you for letting us serve you. And thank you for helping us see that interpreting for those who are in the situation you were in 30 years ago is a privilege, an honor. Thank you.

Helen Eby, Interpreting trainer, learning from every student.


Read the full text of María’s document in Spanish here:

Graduada de la UNIVERSIDAD AUTONOMA DE GUERRERO, Chilpancingo, Guerrero.

María Díaz: Enfermera General en México son 3 años de Universidad y 1 año de servicio social.

1976 a 1980: Empecé la Universidad. Después de 2 años de clases, en el 5.° y 6.° semestre se hace un internado de 3 meses en el Hospital, en el cual uno puede aprender mucho dependiendo de sus habilidades, y trabaja en diferentes salas o departamentos:

  •  Sala de Pediatría (recién nacidos).
  •  Sala de Mujeres.
  •  Sala de Hombres.
  •  Sala infantil.

Durante este año también hay que asistir a clases normales de 8:00 a.m. a 12:00 p.m. o de 2:00 p.m. a 6:00 p.m., y fuera de ese horario el estudiante está internado en el hospital, incluyendo sábado y domingo.

Al terminar el 6.° semestre, entregan las plazas del servicio social dependiendo de la calificación del estudiante. Durante el año de servicio social, uno recibe un sueldo mensual. Al terminar el año el estudiante regresa a su Universidad para entregar el comprobante de haber cumplido con el servicio social, y le asignan 4 maestros que le asesoran para hacer una tesis profesional. Al terminarla, le hacen un examen de su tesis y un examen práctico en el Hospital. Si pasa estas evaluaciones obtiene el Título de Enfermera General.

1980 a 1984: Trabajé en un Centro de Salud como Enfermera General en una zona rural donde solamente había un médico y una enfermera. Se atendía consulta externa, vacunas y planificación familiar.

1984 A 1989: Trabajé para un Hospital como jefa de enfermeras donde supervisaba a diez enfermeras y cuatro pasantes de enfermería. Organizaba los horarios del mes para cubrir los tres turnos, mañana, tarde y noche en el Hospital. Solamente había 15 camas para Hospitalización, y se atendían urgencias, partos, consulta externa, vacunas, planificación familiar, tratamiento de tuberculosis. Era responsable de 5 comunidades rurales con Centros de Salud de los cuales tenía que recibir informes mensuales.

Durante este tiempo me casé y tuve dos hijos. El segundo tuvo problemas de salud porque nació con un anillo vascular rodeando al esófago, un orificio en el ventrículo izquierdo, le faltaba el hueso del pulgar, y el lóbulo de la oreja derecha estaba muy chiquito.

Debido a los problemas de salud de nuestro segundo hijo, mi esposo regresó a los Estados Unidos, porque él ya había estado aquí por diez años. Vino a Tillamook, Oregón porque su papá estaba aquí y cuando llegó encontró trabajo en un rancho de vacas. En cuanto empezó a trabajar, consiguió seguro médico para la familia para poder atender a mi hijo. Por eso inmigré a los Estados Unidos con una Visa familiar de visitante en diciembre de 1989.

Aquí empezó la pesadilla de muchos inmigrantes. Me sentí muda, ciega y también imposibilitada por que no podía ir de un lugar a otro, aunque caminaba no podía ir a la tienda y preguntar por algo porque no podía hablar. Me sentía muda, veía las cosas pero no podía hablar, no hablaba inglés. Me dije que esto tenía que cambiar y empecé ir a las clases de inglés dos veces por semana en Tillamook Bay Community College.

Asistí a las citas de mi hijo en el Hospital de CDRC de Portland. Después de un año y medio de estar en Tillamook, tomé el examen para la licencia de manejar. Empecé a trabajar en el Restaurante Shiloh de Tillamook y trabajé ahí 5 años, primero lavando platos y después preparando las cosas para la línea. Después fui a trabajar a una fábrica de brochas para pintar, donde trabajé 3 años, y regresé a las clases de inglés donde me dieron una solicitud que mandaron de la Universidad de Corvallis.

Iban a emplear una persona que trabajara para la comunidad Hispana como Promotora, y tuve la suerte de que me eligieran a mí. El sueldo iba a ser pagado por 4 instituciones: County Health Department, Tillamook Family Counseling , Tillamook Work Solution y Tillamook County General Hospital. Antes de empezar a trabajar me dieron un adiestramiento en la Universidad de Corvallis sobre cómo entregar información mensual. Trabajé con la comunidad Hispana enseñándole cómo obtener los servicios que existen en esta comunidad. También les di transporte a algunos pacientes que no tenían quien los llevara a su consulta médica, ayude a llenar documentos del Oregon Health Plan y de estampillas de comida.

Después de hacer este trabajo por ocho meses, Tillamook County Health Department me contrató de tiempo completo, y empecé a hacer lo mismo enseñándole a la comunidad hispana los servicios que podían obtener en la Clínica del Health Department. Después los médicos encontraron muchos pacientes con diabetes y me mandaron a Portland para un adiestramiento de dieta para personas que tenían diabetes. Con esa información organicé un grupo de personas para hablar de cómo cambiar su dieta , tomar los medicamentos, cada cuánto se hacen análisis de sangre, que es A1C , cuantas veces deben de visitar al médico al año. Empecé a interpretar en la clínica, asistí a un adiestramiento en Seattle Washington para clases de parto normal, y ayude al Hospital a dar clases de parto normal en español. Después de todos estos adiestramientos me nombraron Case Manager y recibí adiestramiento para completar documentos del Oregon Health Plan. Transporto pacientes a sus citas con los especialistas y sigo interpretando en la Clínica del Health Department. Hace 14 años que trabajo en esta institución.

Sigo ayudando y trabajando para los hispanos, que es algo me gusta hacer. Por eso estudié Enfermería.