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Jasmin Blanco-Vargas, class of 2024, on showing empathy, health equity and showing up for her patients and community

As Jasmin Blanco-Vargas, undergraduate nursing student, class of 2024, points out, nurses are on the frontlines of providing quality health care to all types of patients. “Nurses witness firsthand how unfortunate circumstances can lead to detrimental habits and health. They see the direct effects of limited access to healthcare. They’re the ones caring for hypothermic homeless people, sexual assault victims or depressed veterans,” she said. “Nurses see how health care can impact every aspect of a person’s life.” 

For Blanco-Vargas, nursing provides the opportunity to connect with patients and make a real difference through simple acts of empathy. When interviewing for the fellows program, she shared an anecdote about her approach to holistic care. “I told them about my goals and my first day of clinical, where I listened to a patient tell me about his life for four hours. When COVID hit, he suddenly lost his wife of 40 years to a brain aneurysm, and then a year later experienced liver failure and a transplant,” recalls Blanco-Vargas. “He started to tear up so I asked him about his life with his wife and he told me how they met and traveled and raised a family. Basically the last 40 years of his life.” What she saw as a part of standard care, her interviewers saw as the ultimate act of empathy. “My interviewers told me it might just seem like an act of kindness on my part, but to him it may have meant the world,” Blanco-Vargas said.

Nursing is a very humbling career in my opinion. It teaches you to not judge others and understand a person’s circumstances before jumping to conclusions. Then there’s mastering conflict management, knowing when to avoid situations and when to be firm and set boundaries both with colleagues and patients. Also, trusting your instincts–as a nurse we spend the most time with the patients so we can recognize when something is off, or a medicine prescription is wrong. It could possibly save a life.

Jasmin Blanco-Vargas

Outside of classes and clinicals, Blanco-Vargas makes time to give back as the secretary of Collective Corazón, a student organization with a mission to promote health equity in Latinx/Hispanic populations and break down cultural barriers that prevent Latinx communities from receiving the same services and access to healthcare that other populations enjoy. “Besides the academic material, nursing was a career that was fulfilling in the sense I’d be actively helping people feel better every day. However, coming to college has made me realize I can do more than solely heal people–I can mend Latinx health care inequity,” said Blanco-Vargas. She and her peers in Collective Corazón see the value that advocacy and education can bring toward building culturally-competent care. “Providing culturally competent care is my goal, but it all starts with understanding and an open-mind,” she said. Blanco-Vargas knows she can help champion a new mentality among practicing and future nurses to consider the circumstances that brings a patient into their care. “I want healthcare professionals to realize everything it took for the patient even to get to the doctor’s office, let alone what goes on during the visit. The patient most likely had to take time off of work which is money their family needs to be here, then they have to deal with the embarrassment and frustration that comes with language barriers, and culturally there is already a lack of trust towards the health care system, so for them to seek help in such a vulnerable state is a feat in and of itself.”

Blanco-Vargas knows that to be her best, she needs to practice what she encourages for others. “Self-care comes first, not only to prevent burn out, but what good is a nurse at taking care of people when she herself isn’t taken care of?” She has found that the culture of the VCU School of Nursing supports that idea. “As a pre-nursing student, everyone is competing against each other in a huge lecture hall where you barely know your professors. Once you’re accepted into the program, everyone is sharing studying tips and becoming friends, relationships with professors and preceptors flourish. They are so encouraging and you can tell they just want us to succeed.” 

Follow Collective Corazon for news, events and how to get involved on Instagram and Rams Connect.

by Moira Neve

Categories News, Students