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Taking the Lead on Latinos and Health Care Careers

By Karen Cortes
As if pursuing a Ph.D. and teaching undergraduate nursing classes at Southern Connecticut State University aren’t enough, Maria D. Krol is leading the way for Latinos in nursing as president and founding member of the Connecticut Chapter of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses (NAHN). CT-NAHN is a collaboration of health professionals who aid the Hispanic community and provide educational opportunities to the general public in the form of health fairs, community sponsored events.
Krol and her fellow members are developing a new mentoring program aimed at teaching young Latinos in grades 6-8 the tools they’ll need to enter the health care field. “Families don’t know how to pay for school, and many students aren’t academically prepared. The large majority need help,” says Krol. “Less affluent Latinos have a hard time making it. They focus more on learning the language, and less on math and science. Nursing program admissions test scores are lower for Latino applicants than for Caucasians.”
Krol’s own experience was different. Her mother had attended nursing school in the family’s native Peru. Krol says that the difference for her was parental support. “I knew from a young age that I needed to prepare,” she says. “I knew at a young age that I wanted to be a nurse. In the late 1970’s, women were still being steered toward certain careers.”
As part of her role with CT-NAHN, Krol serves as a role model for Latinos in the community. “There are many issues surrounding recruiting Latinos into the health care field. Many don’t know what avenues to take. I try to set an example, to show housekeeping staff and aides that they can do something else,” she says.
Recently CT-NAHN members launched Muevete USA, which is modeled after First Lady Michelle Obama’s Move USA program, with its inaugural event in Bridgeport, where some 40 percent of residents are of Latino origin. Members spent the day teaching kids and their families about reading food labels, exercise, and healthy snacks. “It’s important to teach both kids and their families. It’s not the kids going to the grocery store,” says Krol.
Krol encourages nurses to attend national conferences so they can see the achievements of other Latinos in the health care field first hand. “Few Connecticut Latinos hold [a] PhD. It’s much more common in the Western United States.”
“I look forward to having more nurses join CT-NAHN,” says Krol. “The more nurses who join, the more power we’ll have. Whatever a nurse’s passion is, we can work together and make it happen. Nurses get leadership skills while helping the health of the Hispanic community.”
While teaching, studying, and mentoring, Krol still follows her passion for direct patient care, working with babies and families in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Stamford Hospital.  She is also clinical preceptor at the Yale School of Nursing, and is co- author of “A Nursing Perspective: Does One’s Skin Color and Accent Affect Health Care Quality?” published in April 2012 in Minority Nurse. She holds a master in science degree in Patient Services Administration from Sacred Heart University, and is completing her Doctor of Nursing Practice, Leadership at Oakland University.
 

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