Every year, between Sep. 15 and Oct. 15, National Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated within the United States. September 15, marks the national independence day for Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. According to a 2017 analysis by the Department of Health and Human Services, of the 3.3 million registered nurses, only 5.7% were Hispanic, while 73.5% were white.
According to U.S. Census data, 18.5% of Americans identify as Hispanic or Lantinx*, which means there is a significant shortage of nurses represented in the healthcare community. Despite the shortage, there are several Hispanic nurses within the field who have made, and continue to make, a significant difference.
This article will explore the following:
- Early influential nurses
- Influential nurses of the 21st century
- Resources for National Hispanic Heritage Month
*While Hispanic and Latinx are not the same thing, for this article we are using the name of the month as our guide.
Early influential nurses
Several Hispanic nurses have made an impact on the field throughout the years. This list is a collection of just a few of the more prominent early influential nurses to emerge within the field.
Ildaura Murillo-Rohde, Ph.D., R.N., FAAN
Dr. Ildaura Murillo-Rohde was born in Panama and reached one of the pinnacles of nursing by receiving a Fellowship from the American Academy of Nursing. Another outstanding achievement includes becoming the Dean of Nursing at SUNY Brooklyn, New York. She also helped establish the National Association of Hispanic Nurses in 1975 to provide opportunities and connections for the Hispanic nursing community.
Henrieta Villaescusa, MPH, RN
Born in Tucson, Arizona, Ms. Villaescusa was a certified nursing champion for women. She also focused on helping Hispanice nurses achieve success in the workplace. After graduating from college in San Diego, she became the first Hispanic Public Health Supervisor while working for the L.A. Public Health Department. She was also selected as Health Administrator for the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. Ms. Villaescusa was the first Mexican-American chief nurse consultant in the Office of Maternal & Child Health, Bureau of Community Health Services.
Hector Hugo Gonzalez, Ph.D., VR-RN
Mr. Gonzalez was a pioneering nurse who helped pave the way for many other nurses after him. His significant accomplishments include being the first Mexican-American registered nurse in the United States to have a doctorate. He also helped found the National Association of Hispanic Nurses with Ildaura Murillo-Rhode. Additionally, he led the Department of Nursing Education at San Antonio College.
Influential nurses of the 21st century
Two very influential nurses who are currently changing the healthcare community share their thoughts on the current state of the inclusion of Hispanic voices in the nursing community. Theses nurses discuss some of their ideas about the month’s significance and what can be done to address the shortage of Hispanic nurses.
Alana Cueto, MSN, R.N., CNL, NAHN’s 19th President
Alana Cueto has invested many years as a nursing professional helping vulnerable populations living in impoverished neighborhoods by providing service, education, and advocacy. She is a registered nurse, certified clinical nurse leader, educator, and Fellow at the New York Academy of Medicine. She was also the 19th President of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses.
Regarding the shortage of Hispanic nurses within the nursing field, she states that:
“Providing role models and mentorship for nursing students is vital to the success of minority nursing students. Lack of support plays a large part in low graduation rates. Minority faculty teaching at schools of nursing need to share their journeys with students. This process of sharing one’s journey, including the struggles and overcoming obstacles, helps students gain the confidence needed to succeed. It’s the concept of ‘if he/she can do it, so can I’.”
Moreover, Cueto believes there needs to be more emphasis on actionable plans to diversify the field:
“It is time we moved from advocacy to action. Minority nurses need to be given every resource, tool, and opportunity to succeed. Financial issues can be eased with scholarships and work-study programs. Confidence can be addressed with a greater number of role models and minority healthcare workers in leadership positions. Fostering a culture of inclusion and belonging is essential in bringing an array of minority voices to the table. When you have a multicultural healthcare workforce you have nurses with the knowledge and skills to meet the diverse needs of patients.”
Martha Salmon, RN
Martha Salmon dreamed about becoming a nurse at the age of 12 years old. She was able to finish nursing school while raising two children and has been a nurse for 11 years. She uses her inspirational story to encourage other Hispanic nurses to achieve their dreams. Salmon started Latina, RN to encourage Hispanic nurses to take pride in their culture while pursuing careers in healthcare.
In regard to her path, she notes that there were hardly any Hispanic nurses when she started:
“Being a nurse for 11 years now, and seeing the growth in diversity has been great,” she said. “I remember when I started as an LVN, I could count the number of Latino nurses on one hand. Now, there are significantly more, thankfully, but now it’s time to use these voices. I take pride in educating my unit on the use of interpretation, finding different ways to encourage the use of interpretation, and educating the patients/patients’ families that it’s OK to stop a doctor, to stop a nurse to ask for interpreting services when needed.”
Resources for National Hispanic Heritage Month
National Association of Hispanic Nurses (NAHN):
- NAHN Facebook:
- Center to Champion Nurses in America:
- Hispanic Star Nurse Heroes grant: