Adrianna Nava, Ph.D., MPA, MSN, RN, and president of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses (NAHN), shares how her culture has influenced her career and how we must continue to work toward health equity in Hispanic/Latino communities.
Dr. Nava, were you passionate about becoming a nurse at a young age?
Although I have nurses in my family, I really became interested in nursing during college. Initially I wanted to become a pediatrician but shied away from the idea when I learned it would take many years of schooling; becoming a nurse would allow me to work with patients faster! Little did I know at the time that as a nurse, I would still pursue many years of schooling, to include two master’s degrees and my Ph.D.
How has your culture influenced your career path?
It’s a deeply personal endeavor to advocate for health equity through NAHN. As a Mexican-American, my Latina roots have kept me focused on improving the lived experience of Latinos in the United States., including improving Latino health outcomes. Over time, I have noticed that the health disparities we are trying to close impact not only my community, but my family and friends.
Tell us how you began your career and how it has led to your role as president of the NAHN.
I began my nursing career in the summer of 2009 as a health policy fellow in the office of former congressman Xavier Becerra, now Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). I started my nursing career at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) as an ICU nurse. In my 8 years at the VA, my last position was as the Chief of Quality at the Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital.
Academically, I’ve focused on health policy, leadership and research. During my leadership experiences, I recognized the value that nurses bring to health care decision-making and in addressing variations in health care quality. I felt that I could do more to improve the current healthcare system by empowering nurses to reach higher levels of academic success and broadening their leadership capacity so there would be more of us available to create change.
My interest in leadership stemmed from my desire to improve health system policies and processes to create a better work and health care environment for providers and patients. My work with NAHN began in 2010, when I was a novice nurse. My first role was as President of the NAHN-Illinois chapter in 2011, and I have been president of the NAHN since 2021. It brings me great pride to think of the work we can accomplish together, to help close the health disparities gap for Latinos in the U.S.
As a nurse and advocate for increasing access to care for underserved populations, tell us about the importance of access to care for Hispanic/Latino communities.
The first step to ensuring high quality care is to make sure people have access to health care. For years, our Latino community has lagged behind in having insurance coverage. (20% of the Latino population was still uninsured as of 2019.) The passage of the Affordable Care Act was instrumental to increasing the number of Latinos who had access to Medicaid, or private insurance coverage, however, there is still work to be done.
For some Latinos, another barrier to adequate health care access includes language barriers. At NAHN, we recognize these barriers, and since 1975, we have been a professional nursing organization that has mobilized into our communities. Our chapter leaders work with their members to organize health fairs and educational partnerships and workshops to bring health information and resources into their communities. Access to community health data would enrich our programming as we develop targeted educational programs and interventions in the future.
As the NAHN and the Alzheimer’s Association work together, what potential do we have to communicate about Alzheimer’s and dementia to Spanish-speaking populations?
We know that discrimination in the health care system exists, which is a contributing factor to current health care disparities. Our partnership empowers health care clinicians and patients to learn more about Alzheimer’s disease and be well informed.
We are now able to connect families and patients with resources, so they feel empowered to seek out resources for their family members who may be experiencing the impact of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Since our local NAHN chapters provide information and resources right in the community, our partnership enables community members to gain information from a nurse, many times, in their preferred language.
How do you encourage Hispanic/Latino families to reach out for help as a first step on their Alzheimer’s or dementia journey?
I encourage families to connect with their trusted health care provider as a first step, to gain access to appropriate resources that may be right for their family. I also encourage families to seek out support groups in their local area. The Alzheimer’s Association is able to connect them with information on local resources, and we continue to build NAHN into an organization that can continue to provide important support and information to our communities in need.
Learn more about the Alzheimer's Association's partnership with the National Association of Hispanic Nurses.
About: Dr. Nava’s hope for the future of nursing is to have more nurse leaders contributing to advancing health equity through practice, research and policy. In her spare time, she enjoys salsa dancing and taking short mountain hikes.
Hispanic Americans and Alzheimer's