Guest column: ‘Nurses like myself stood on the front lines of a battle we never saw coming’

Guest column: ‘Nurses like myself stood on the front lines of a battle we never saw coming’

By Esai Barrios – Courtesy of El Paso Inc.

Like many El Paso nurses today, I graduated from the Hunt School of Nursing at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso. From the start, the education that student nurses receive at the school is rooted in compassionate care – putting the patient at the forefront of every decision.

My journey at the Hunt School of Nursing was memorable in several ways. Near the end of my time in school, however, I experienced something that not every nursing student will encounter. While completing clinical rotations at University Medical Center of El Paso, I found myself caring for victims of what became one of the worst mass shootings in the country. People who had been shopping at a local Walmart on the morning of Aug. 3, 2019 streamed into the operating room just minutes after my peers and I realized the nightmare that had transpired.

Less than a year later, after graduating and becoming a registered nurse, the world was changed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Nurses like myself stood on the front lines of a battle we never saw coming, and for some of us, it was the second time we endured the unexpected at such an early stage in our nursing careers.

Events like these can change the trajectory of your career, even your life. What didn’t change was my dedication, both to my patients and our entire community. This is what the Hunt School of Nursing prepared me to do – to remain dedicated to the task at hand, provide the highest quality of care and treat my patients with the same compassion I would show my loved ones.

Faculty at the school also instilled in us the importance of using our skills to give back, not just locally, but to extend compassionate care to all areas in need. It’s why I became a traveling nurse to help on the front lines in cities hit hard by COVID-19. For me, these experiences came full circle – applying what I’ve learned in El Paso to help communities outside the city, eventually returning with the motivation to continue serving the borderland.

This year, the Hunt School of Nursing celebrates its 10th anniversary. For the past decade, the school has led the way in educating students like me, a native El Pasoan whose career in the health sciences began in the Sun City. So far, the Hunt School of Nursing has graduated more than 800 nurses who touch the lives of patients and their families every day.

The delivery of health care has changed significantly over recent years, and nurses are needed now more than ever. This is especially true in El Paso, which still faces a nursing shortage that’s expected to increase by 2030. The borderland region also faces health care disparities, including access to care for prevalent conditions like diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

I’m a proud graduate of the Hunt School of Nursing because I know the faculty believe in every single student and a nurse’s ability to change the scope of health care. The school not only provides educational opportunities for our community’s residents, but is focused on eliminating barriers that too often disrupt the completion of a nursing degree.

On the heels of National Nurses Week – which celebrates the selfless sacrifices of nurses across the country – I encourage El Pasoans to thank a nurse by supporting their future trusted heroes. This year, the Hunt School of Nursing will offer several ways to do so, and every effort makes a resounding impact on the lives of its students and the patients they serve.

As an alum, I can guarantee that there’s no better support system than the people of El Paso. Together, we can transform the lives of future nurses by giving them a chance to improve health care locally while also living out their dreams.

Esai Barrios, RN, is a 2019 graduate of the Hunt School of Nursing and a clinical lab coach at the school.