A healthy dose of Spanish
The Arizona Republic
Aug. 6, 2003
The problem: Many patients in Valley hospitals speak only Spanish, and too
few nursing assistants or nurses speak any Spanish.
The solution: Find native Spanish speakers with some proficiency in English,
train them as nursing assistants and get them into the hospitals to assist in
delivering appropriate care to Spanish speaking patients.
Seems obvious, but until last January no program existed in the Valley to
recruit native Spanish speakers and train them as nursing
"The need was so great it seemed the time for this program had just come," said
Bertha Sepulveda, coordinator for Mesa Community
College's ESL Nurse Assisting Program, which started in January.
The first class of nursing assistants finishes its two semesters of course work
this week and graduates Aug. 14.
A certified nursing assistant helps nurses provide services to patients,
Sepulveda said. Nursing assistants take vital signs, help patients
move about the hospital, assist patients in "range of motion" exercises and
provide personal care, including bathing and feeding.
Sepulveda said the idea for the program came from MCC nursing program department
chairwoman Myrna Eshelman.
"At an ASU seminar, I heard something that just floored me, and it was the
changing demographics of Mesa regarding how many
Spanish-only speakers we had and would have in the future," Eshelman said. "We
already knew that we have had Spanish-only
speakers come to our hospitals with sometimes devastating results because
Spanish-speaking employees didn't talk them to. When we
saw how much worse the situation was going to get, we knew we had to do
Eshelman said that efforts to train English speaking nurses and nursing
assistants in Spanish "hadn't worked out. We had to try something else."
That something else was looking for people whose native language was Spanish but
who also had some basic competency in English,
then convincing those people that being a nursing assistant was a job with a
Eshelman knew she needed someone connected to the Spanish-speaking community to
help develop the program she was
"One of our faculty recommended Bertha Sepulveda," Eshelman said. "Bertha and I
chatted, and I hired her on the spot. As it has turned out, I couldn't have done
Sepulveda, a registered nurse and medical care consultant, is head of the
Valley chapter of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses.
"I started planning Myrna's program last fall," Sepulveda said. "We soon
realized we needed a two-semester course to not only teach our students the
basics of nursing but also to improve their English."
Entry requirements for the program are that students be in the United States
legally, that they have an aptitude for the training and have a basic competency
"We got a class of about 20 people very easily," Sepulveda said. "They saw that
not only is being a nursing assistant a good job in itself but it can also lead
to being a registered nurse or to other jobs in health care."
That's how Maria Shepard, 34, of Gilbert, looks at it. Shepard's previous job
had been as a drugstore cashier.
"Nursing always was my dream," Shepard said. "I love to take care of people.
"But I also want more of a future than I had as a store clerk. I'm going to work
as a nursing assistant while I become a registered nurse. I'm already registered
for the prerequisite classes, which I'll take this fall."
Sepulveda said she's proud of Shepard and the 16 others who completed the
"Maria is married, has two children, and will work as a nurse assistant while
she becomes a registered nurse," Sepulveda said. "That's hard work. Most of our
students have families, full-time jobs, yet made time for this program.
"They are a motivated group. One of the students is a medical doctor from
Mexico, and we have three registered nurses from Peru,
Colombia and Mexico."
Sepulveda said graduating students will receive a certificate from MCC for nurse
assisting. They then will take a certification test through the Arizona State
Board of Nursing, which licenses all nurses and nurse assistants.
"We believe they are more than ready for their certification test," she said.
"They worked hard, we're proud of them, and they should be proud of themselves."