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Hispanic and Latino/a Nurses You Should Know About

Maura Deering, J.D.
Updated August 29, 2022
    This post introduces Latino/a and Hispanic nurses, who share a passion for inspiring others in their communities to pursue nursing careers and improve access to healthcare.
    Hispanic nurse smiling in hospital room

    According to 2020 survey data, 5.6% of registered nurse (RN) respondents reported Hispanic and Latino/a heritage — an increase of 0.3% from 2017. Even so, the nursing workforce continues to follow a disproportionately white trend.

    Many influential Hispanic and Latino/a nurses pave the way for future nursing generations through mentorships and direct support for the Latino/a nursing community.

    The nursing professionals featured on this page include such trailblazers as the founder of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses (NAHN) and a nurse who created a community for Latina nurses. These individuals and the other nurses highlighted below support their fellow nurses and continue to change the face of the nursing workforce.

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    How Hispanic Nursing Organizations Support Latino/a Nurses

    According to NAHN, socioeconomic factors contribute to the loss of Hispanic nursing students and faculty through attrition. To increase the number of Hispanic and Latino/a nursing professionals, NAHN provides information to high school students about the prerequisite classes they need before nursing school, along with resources to support Latino/a nursing students.

    NAHN also profiles Latino/a and Hispanic role models and facilitates the Mentors Connection program, which pairs prospective nurses with experienced nurses who offer career advice, guidance, and support.

    Calling for more diversity in the nursing workforce, NAHN supports an increase in Hispanic nurses from the current percentage of 5.6% to 18.5%, which aligns with the current Hispanic and Latino/a population in the United States.

    Influential Hispanic and Latino/a Nurses to Know

    NAHN regularly profiles Hispanic and Latino/a nurses who seek to increase their representation in the profession. The list below offers a sampling of these influential nurses.

    Ildaura Murillo-Rohde, Ph.D., R.N., FAAN

    In 1945, Dr. Ildaura Murillo-Rohde moved from Panama to San Antonio, Texas. Upon becoming increasingly aware of a lack of Hispanic nurses, she decided to apply to nursing school. Murillo-Rohde earned her bachelor’s degree in psychiatric-mental health nursing at Columbia University, followed by a master’s and doctoral degree at New York University.

    In 1975, Murillo-Rohde helped found NAHN to promote Hispanic and Latino/a nursing education and service.

    Hector Hugo Gonzalez, Ph.D., VR-RN

    During the 1960s, Hector Hugo Gonzalez attended nursing school in his home state of Texas. In 1974, he became the nation’s first Mexican-American RN to obtain a doctorate.

    Throughout his career, Gonzalez continued to break new ground as the first Hispanic district president within the Texas Nursing Association. As chairman of the Department of Nursing Education at San Antonio College, he designed flexible curriculum options for students from underrepresented communities to become licensed RNs.

    Henrieta Villaescusa, MPH, RN

    Henrieta Villaescusa devoted her career in public health to increasing opportunities for women and Hispanics. Her list of “firsts” includes the first Hispanic nurse appointed Health Administrator of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare and the first Mexican-American Chief Nurse Consultant in the Office of Maternal and Child Health, Bureau of Community Health Services.

    After her retirement, Villaescusa assisted the Surgeon General in formulating the Hispanic Health Initiative on the west coast and was appointed to the Task Force on Minority Health during the Reagan administration.

    Hilda Ortiz-Morales, NPcs, Ph.D., AAHIVS

    After completing her doctorate in healthcare administration, Hilda Ortiz-Morales focused on giving back to her community. She developed a successful program that provides care to patients with HIV at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, New York. Most of her patients are Hispanic and African American, with 90% on Medicaid or Medicare. Ortiz-Morales also teaches and mentors future nurses as an adjunct professor at Herbert H. Lehman College.

    Elizabeth Aquino, Ph.D., RN

    Elizabeth Aquino has logged a distinguished career as a surgical-trauma intensive care nurse and as an associate professor of nursing at DePaul University in Chicago. Driven by a commitment to helping others, she is currently the president of the American Nurses Association-Illinois, having served as treasurer at NAHN and president of NAHN-Illinois Chapter.

    As a strong advocate for more accessible healthcare within underserved groups, Aquina mentors Latino/a nurses and works to increase health services in the Latino/a community.

    Martha Salmon, RN

    Martha Salmon knew she wanted to pursue nursing from the age of 12 but faced a daunting path to get there. Despite needing to complete a long list of prerequisite classes while raising two children, she finished nursing school and now relays her story to inspire others in the Latino/a community. Salmon started Latina, RN to increase the number of Latino/a nurses by encouraging Latinas to take pride in their heritage and pursue healthcare careers.

    Adriana Perez, Ph.D., CRNP, ANP-BC, FAAN, FGSA

    Assistant professor of nursing and senior fellow Adriana Perez followed in the footsteps of her grandmother, who worked as a nurse in Mexico. As a postdoctoral fellow, Perez tested and refined a community-based exercise health intervention that addressed the cultural and linguistic needs of older Latinas to increase their physical activity.

    Perez has long been a member of NAHN, including as president of the Phoenix Chapter. She currently serves as a diversity consultant for the Center to Champion Nursing in America at AARP.