Rural Nursing Graduate Learns By Giving Time to Hispanics

06/03/03    ASHLAND, Ore.

Two years ago, as part of her nursing education, Abigail Rojas began working with Hispanic girls in southern Oregon. "We'd spend two days a week with them on a health-related project. We went to the hospital and read to children in the pediatric unit or just held the babies to give the nurses a break. Or we'd bring the girls to visit classes. They've loved it. It makes them think, 'I could do that.'"

For Rojas, being a mentor has become a calling. Two of her charges are now seriously interested in nursing, and Rojas has worked with them on their English language skills and remedial math to help them get into the courses they need for nursing school.

She believes passionately in the profession. "I was a young mom; I had my first baby at 17," she said. "The first experience was scary. But with my second child, the nurses were wonderful. I wanted to be a nurse so I could do what the good nurses do -- so the birthing experience isn't so scary."

That experience and years of study will bring Rojas her bachelor of science degree in nursing from Oregon Health & Science University. She will be among the more than 850 graduates at Oregon Health & Science University's 2003 Commencement. The OHSU School of Nursing, Ashland Campus' commencement is scheduled for Saturday, June 14, at Raider Stadium, Southern Oregon University.

Rojas, 31, grew up a in southern California, a third-generation American from a large Mexican family. She was about to enter nursing school in Los Angeles when her husband, Jerry, completed his HVAC certificate, a technical program in heating, ventilating and air conditioning, and he was recruited for a job near Medford. Jerry encouraged her to go to nursing school anyway.

"I didn't even know there was a nursing school in the area," Abby said, "so it just kind of worked out." She enrolled in OHSU School of Nursing, Ashland campus, which is located at Southern Oregon University. After studying part-time for six years, she has been a full-time student for three years.

She did not realize there was a large Hispanic population in the area until her clinical instructor, Wendy Neander, R.N., M.N., assistant professor, OHSU School of Nursing, asked her and another student to get involved with migrant farm workers. "They needed checkups and health promotion. They were Salvadoran, Guatemalan, Mexican," Rojas said. This spring she spent a month in Guatemala as part of her clinical experience, working with women, children and older people. The experience reinforced her commitment to nursing.

With four children, ages 4 to 14, Rojas has needed plenty of determination to complete her B.S. degree. Her grandmother, Abigail Tover, has been a constant source of inspiration, and her husband, she said, "has been my rock. It is because of his love and support that I have been able to finish and succeed in nursing school."

Her success is the pride of her family, so much so that 25 relatives are coming from the Los Angeles area for her graduation. Her classmates elected her to speak on behalf of the class at the pinning ceremony.

"I think I will talk about the education nurses go through," she says. "A lot of people think nurses mainly hold your hand. But it is a rigorous program that teaches you critical thinking and how to critically assess situations. There is a lot involved in nursing."

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