Friday, December 8, 2023

First-gen, community health worker is preparing for a nursing career

First-gen, community health worker is preparing for a nursing career

Maria Elena's goal is to help others in need of healthcare resources.

(Aug. 29, 2019) -- Maria Elena Valdez was born in Eagle Pass, Texas to seasonal immigrant workers from Coahuila, Mexico. She remembers traveling between Mexico and the U.S. with her parents when she was young. Her father worked each summer in the Wisconsin fields, then he would take his family to Mexico each winter when the work season ended.

Although that was the family routine for most of Valdez’s early childhood years, her parents had a better plan for her future. They strived to overcome poverty so she could pursue the American dream. After years of moving, the family settled in San Antonio. Today, Valdez says it feels like home.

During Valdez’s junior year in high school, she met Miguel Bedolla, the director of the UTSA Health Career Opportunity Program. He encouraged her to join the UTSA Pathway to Health Professions program that year. The Pathway to Health Professions Program is housed under the Policy Studies Center within the UTSA College of Public Policy.

After graduating from Judson Early College Academy and earning an Associate’s degree in Liberal Arts from Northeast Lakeview College, Valdez enrolled at UTSA in fall 2017 to pursue her bachelor’s degree. The first-generation college student also joined the UTSA Pathway to Health Professions Program and began studying local health care challenges.

“We learned a lot about the different health care issues that affect Bexar County regarding diabetes, mental health, food and medical assistance needs that the different sets of populations face,” said Valdez.

Upon completion of the program, Valdez obtained her certification as a community health worker.

“That opened up more doors for me,” she said. “I now can practice in the field while I work to obtain my bachelor’s degree.”

Valdez is currently leveraging her Community Health Worker certification at the Children’s Hospital of San Antonio. She counsels many of its emergency room patients so they leave the hospital with a better awareness of the resources that are available to them after they are released.

The UTSA undergraduate is planning on attending nursing school next year and hold a dual degree in Community Health and Nursing. She has been accepted to complete an internship with the University Health System Hospital at the Texas Diabetes Institute beginning this fall and will be graduating from UTSA this December with her Bachelor’s of Science in Community Health from the College of Education and Human Development.

“Maria Elena is absolutely committed to serving the population of San Antonio, she has already been certified by the State of Texas as a Community Health Worker through the Pathways to Health Professions Program, she is one of the best students in the program and is unwaveringly committed to be an excellent nursing professional" said Bedolla.

The Pathway to Health Professions program provides the students from the high schools with an educational program that will assist them in becoming competitive applicants to a health professional program in Allied Health, Dentistry or Medicine.

Ingrid Wright

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