The World of Nursing Through Latino Eyes

M. Villanueva
June 5, 2002

I have long been puzzled by my mother's inability to find work in her profession. Alicia, my mother, received her Masters in Rehabilitation Counseling and her Bachelors in Social Work from BGSU. Since 1996, she has been unable to find work in her trained profession. Many of the social workers I have talked to say there is an abundance of employment opportunities in Alicia's locality. It seems Alicia's Anglo-American counterparts enjoy an abundance of employment opportunities. It is heart breaking to know my mother performs general labor such as scrubbing other people's toilets to pay her bills when she has a masters degree. This is the kind of work that my grandmother did to pay for my mother's education.

Why do Anglo-Americans despise Mexican-American's so? Mostly it is our Native American features. The Spaniards conquered what is now Mexico killing the majority of its natives but interbred with some giving rise to my mestizo heritage. Our dark skin and facial features do not blend in a country of light-skinned Anglo-Americans. Even in Mexico, whites are the ruling class while mestizos are looked upon with scorn. I grew up in rural America learning what is to be mestizo. The regular beatings and racial slurs by white children made me the person I am today.

Nursing School

I had done well in my undergraduate studies until I entered the nursing program. I had enjoyed academic success with a GPA of 3.8 (4.0 scale) until my first semester in the nursing program when I was placed on academic probation. My clinical instructor felt I was failing clinical. We weren't even passing medications yet, we were learning how to make care plans and give patient baths. It was a painful experience through the entire program. I graduated cum laude with a 3.6 GPA but was not permitted from joining Sigma Theta Tau's honor society because none of the faculty would recommend me.

Working in the Hospitals

While most of my undergraduate classmates easily found jobs in my hometown of Toledo, I could not find any. My job search extended to metropolitan-Detroit. Detroit has a high African-American population of 83 percent. Suddenly, I was hired immediately.

After working 4 years on med-surge floors, I was accepted into critical care and took a critical care course in 1996. Most of the staff in critical care was white. There were many infractions that occurred with our minority patients but I said nothing. I was a new critical care nurse and relied heavily on other staff as mentors. I had planned on working in critical since graduating from nursing school and I didn't want to ruin this opportunity by reporting my co-workers. Most of our patients were inner-city African-Americans, many with drug addiction (the consequences of living in poverty). Many of my co-workers privately shared their hatred of African-Americans. My co-workers stereotyped them as filthy indigent drug addicts. My co-workers treated minority patients harshly behind closed doors. Our intensive care unit was behind closed double doors. You will never know how helpless you can be until you are on a ventilator. Often you are on a ventilator because you are too weak to even breathe. Next, your hands will often be tied down so you cannot pull out your endotracheal tube leaving you completely helpless and unable to call for help. Often the white nurses I worked with manhandled the patients while caring for them. I could see the fear in the patient's eyes. Often times the patients' ventilator alarms would go off because they were drowning in their secretions but the white nurses would ignore them.

Finally, a night came when a white nurse was at her station and the cardiac monitor was alarming. I was in the break room eating while she sat right in front of the monitor ignoring the alarm. For several minutes the alarm sounded while she read a book. Finally, she looked up and realized a patient was dying. The patient died and I reported her. I regretted reporting her because the problems it would cause for me. My report caused a large investigation from an outside office. Emotions ran high and conflicts arose between white nurses and minority nurses. This incident caused problems for my manager who then gave me an unfavorable evaluation. After years of favorable evaluations, she condemned me for not getting along with other staff.

Back to School

My wife has chronic illness that prevents her from working. My salary as a registered nurse made it difficult to support both of us. I had always dreamed of going to nurse anesthesia school. I wanted a masters degree like my mother.  She is the only person in our family who has one. I was fortunate to have been accepted into a nurse anesthesia program so I made the decision to quit my job. I was in the program for 6 months before I realized I could not handle the clinicals. With much regret I dropped out of the anesthesia program and entered the nurse practitioner program. I wanted to work part time but my previous nurse manager would not hire me back. While taking a pediatric pathophysiology course, I ran into a professor who seemed to dislike me for some reason. She did not show me the same attention she showed the rest my white classmates. It was very difficult dealing with her. I had never failed a class in my college career but now I was failing every test in her course. It seems while everyone did exceptionally well on her exams the only minority in her class failed miserably. Because I failed this course I was suspended from the nurse practitioner program.

Back to Work

While I was going to school part-time, I started working part-time at a local hospital where I now live in Warren, Michigan. Their critical care was similar to the one I worked in. I felt I was adapting slowing but surely into my new work environment but my new manager pulled me out of the unit after a few months. She said my co-workers felt I did not have the skills to work in critical care. I reassured her I had 5 years of critical care and brought in my critical care course certificate from 1996. She was not convinced and recommended that I take their hospital's critical care course before I could work back in her unit. After successfully completing a second critical care course she let me back into her unit. I was one of only a few minorities working in this hospital which seems strange for the metropolitan Detroit area. I could sense that several of the white critical care nurses hated me. I was intent on keeping my position, I ignored all the cruel hurtful remarks my white co-workers made. I stayed past my shift to make sure I had completed all my work. However, a white nurse with less experience than me recommended I leave the unit. So I'm presently working in a telemetry unit.


Now I understand why it is so difficult for my mother to get a job. It seems that whites in America are more comfortable with mestizos working in fields picking their tomatoes or cleaning their toilets than actually working side by side with them. To be honest, I would rather labor in a field picking fruits and vegetables with people who respect me than to work in nursing where I am hated.