Who Was the First Hispanic Nurse?
Jane Delgado was a gifted fifth grader who was encouraged by her teacher to pursue a career in psychology. She fought racial inequities and helped many people take care of their health. She later served as the president of the National Alliance for Hispanic Health and worked at the Department of Health and Human Services. She also contributed to the first U.S. effort to study health disparities.
Founded in 1975, the National Association of Hispanic Nurses was named in honor of Panamanian-born Ildaura Murillo-Rhde, a pioneer in the profession. Apart from nursing, she also had diverse interests, including academics, tennis teaching, and organizational administration. In 1975, she was named a professor at a medical college and founded the National Association of Hispanic Nurses.
Murillo-Rohde emigrated from her native country of Panama when she was only 25 years old. In San Antonio, Texas, the population was largely Hispanic, but there were few Hispanic nurses. In order to address this situation, she studied at Columbia University and at New York University. Later, she earned her master’s and doctoral degrees and served as the first Hispanic Associate Dean at NYU’s School of Nursing.
Dr. Ildaura Murillo-Rohde was an active researcher and a prolific writer. She contributed to many journals and books dealing with the Hispanic experience. Her research included The Addict as an Inpatient, published in 1963, and Family Life Among Mainland Puerto Ricans in New York City Slums, published in 1976. She also contributed to Chicano Aging and Mental Health and Cultural Perspectives in Family Therapy, published in 1985.
Henrieta Villaescusa is a notable Hispanic nurse who dedicated her career to improving health for women and minorities. She was the first Hispanic health administrator in the Department of Health and was the first Mexican American Chief Nurse Consultant. She also served as an advisor to several politicians and the U.S. Surgeon General. Her dedication to improving health care was well documented, and today, Hispanic nurses have a special place in nursing history.
Villaescusa’s success as a nurse went far beyond her nursing career. She also served as a federal government official, serving as a woman’s health coordinator and advisor to Congressman Edward Roybal. Her work had a broad impact that extended beyond the United States and the United Nations. In Latin America, Villaescusa collaborated with community health and academic nursing leaders to create nursing education curricula and programs in those countries. She also worked with the local health workforce in Peru and Bolivia.
Dr. Elizabeth Aquino, the first Hispanic nurse in Illinois, is a distinguished nurse. She is currently a DePaul University Associate Professor and the president of the American Nurses Association-Illinois chapter. Aquino has demonstrated a dedication to addressing the social and structural determinants of health and has served in leadership roles on several boards and committees. She has been recognized with several awards for her service and leadership.
Aquino’s research focuses on the impact of COVID-19 on the healthcare system. She is co-investigator of a study that explores how nurses can cope with the outbreak while providing care to patients. She has also become an advocate for social justice, and has worked to increase access to healthcare for minority groups. She hopes to encourage other Latino/a nurses to enter the healthcare field.
In the field of nursing, Dr. Perez has paved the way for others by making history in her community. She has extensive clinical experience in cardiovascular care, is the chair of the BAGNC alumni association, and has been an active member of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses (NAHN).
She began her career in Mexicali and moved to Guadalajara, Mexico, when she was three months old. She grew up in a modest three-bedroom house, where her parents sold popcorn in local parks. She was inspired by the growing population of Mexican Americans in the U.S., and decided to pursue a career in nursing. After completing her law degree from the University of Guadalajara, she completed an internship at the Immigration Delegation in her home country. After a five-year stint in the United States, she opened her Lakeside office in 1997.
In addition to her role at Penn Nursing, Dr. Perez is an Assistant Professor at the University of Pennsylvania and a Senior Fellow at the Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics at the University of Pennsylvania. Her current research focuses on health policies that affect Latino communities, such as addressing the needs of Latino people with Alzheimer’s disease. She also works on research projects that address social determinants of health, such as physical activity.
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