The following is a shortened version of a talk by Liz Harrington ’13, on behalf of herself and fellow nursing student Noelle DeNome ’13, at the nursing pinning ceremony in May 2013.
Noelle and I have learned through working in inner-city hospitals that cultural competence is essential to quality patient care. We were able to put our love of community health into action at El Centro del Inmigrante, where we spent many hours doing health screenings and teaching for undocumented immigrants in the Port Richmond area of Staten Island.
Port Richmond is a densely populated community, full of beautiful culture but also tragic health disparities. It is home to the city’s fastest-growing immigrant population, a third of whom lives on an income that is half of the official poverty level.
Over time, the community of El Centro opened its arms to us. Noelle and I began speaking Spanish more frequently and were able to immerse ourselves in their culture.
On one visit, we were introduced to a man who smelled of alcohol and was complaining of pain in his right upper quadrant. After assessing him, we realized that the margins of his liver were palpable and that he needed a referral. He began to cry, telling us that he was afraid. He had been laboring without pay for weeks, and sleeping on a cold concrete basement floor. He had not eaten in two days.
Noelle and I looked at each other and realized that this community was in greater need than we had initially thought. We snapped into action and knew that our presence there needed to be increased. I cannot put into words the feeling that went through us when this man looked at us after teaching him, taking his blood pressure, speaking his language, just making him feel safe. “God bless you,” he said, as tears welled up in his eyes.
I feel so fortunate to have met this community, shared myself with them, and learned from them. They taught me more than I could have ever learned in a textbook. They were my teachers, and for this experience I thank them. This community continues to challenge us and allow us to go places we had never been before. Here we met people who didn’t look like us or even speak the same language; but this is our passion, what we are meant to do, to give of ourselves to others. That is the true definition of a nurse.
With the guidance of Nancy Cherofsky '05 M'07, assistant professor of nursing, Noelle and I were able to create the Wellness Program, which has become the newest addition to Wagner’s Port Richmond Partnership. We have laid the foundation for the Wagner nursing students who come after us. We hope they continue what we have started at El Centro and enhance the health of this community one small step at a time.