Aug 03, 2023

Becoming an Equity-Minded Nurse Was Inevitable for Me

My story of being an equity-minded nurse began with my background. I was born to teenage parents along the Texas-Mexico border in a “colonia,” a Spanish term for poverty-stricken neighborhood. Nursing school to me was not only a way to play a pivotal role in shaping a community’s health outcomes, but that education was also my pathway in breaking the cycle. As a first-generation college graduate and Latina nurse, I have experienced discrimination from other nurses and systemic racism in health care. These experiences are my driving force and passion to be an equity-minded nurse and to inspire my fellow nursing colleagues to strive for health equity.

As nurses we take an oath to serve all patients from different backgrounds. To do so we must optimize the health of all individuals while recognizing that there are populations that have been historically underserved and marginalized not only in health care but society.  As the American population diversifies, it is an opportunity for nurses to continue to be the most trusted profession by valuing these differences and advocating for those who can’t advocate for themselves. All nurses can answer this call, and we need our nursing allies and partners to join nursing in promoting health equity and well-being. I believe health care is a basic human right and everyone deserves an opportunity to thrive in their well-being.

One way that I’m helping to bring equity-minded care to my community beyond my role in health care is sharing the Future of Nursing: Campaign for Action’s Health Equity Toolkit with some local organizations, where it can help them supercharge the work they’re already doing. (The Campaign is an initiative of AARP Foundation, AARP and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation).

For example, I recently met with the leaders of Rio Grande Valley Roller and walked them through the toolkit and ways it applies to their work. A big part of their mission is to promote wellness and physical lifestyles through the activity of roller hockey, and to make the activity available to everyone, regardless of financial or cultural background. I also introduced them to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation County Health Rankings tool. Our area counties rank among the lowest in Texas for health. But this tool also highlights areas to improve, and of course, one of them was opportunities for physical activity. Spreading awareness about how health is tied to other factors like race and economics helps communities take steps to make things better for everyone

I also recently joined my hometown’s Healthy Harlingen Board, which works with our mayor, Norma Sepulveda, to inform the health of Harlingen citizens.  It’s an honor to serve as the only nurse on the board. In that role, I will have more opportunities to share more information about health equity, and solutions for advancing it. This information will then be shared with my local nursing action coalition to inform them of the health needs of South Texas and consider how nurses can be drivers in addressing the health equity needs of this population.

Jessica Wagner, MPH, BSN, RN is the Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Program Manager for thethe Veterans Health Administration Texas Valley Coastal Bend Healthcare System and serves on the Board of Healthy Harlingen, the main community source of education and resources to improve the health and wellness of the citizens of Harlingen, TX. Wagner was selected in 2014 as a Campaign for Action Breakthrough Leader in Nursing, which recognized nurses who contribute in extraordinary ways to the lives and well-being of those in their communities. She later served as a Campaign for Action Outreach Advocate for a Culture of Health, or COACH, making presentations on nursing’s role in building a Culture of Health.

Lead photo credit: (c) GETTY IMAGES/SDI Productions