Pilar De La Cruz-Reyes of Sanger has 47 years of nursing experience to bring to the California State Board of Registered Nursing when she is seated in January.
De La Cruz-Reyes, 69, was appointed to the nine-member board this month by Gov. Jerry Brown.
She replaces another central San Joaquin Valley nurse, Beverly Hayden-Pugh, whose term was up. Hayden-Pugh, vice president and chief nursing officer at Valley Children’s Hospital, was appointed by the governor in 2013.
Since 2013, De La Cruz-Reyes has directed the Central California Center for Excellence in Nursing at Fresno State, which advances nursing science, education and research. Prior to that she was dean of the United States University College of Nursing in Chula Vista, a project manager at the Hospital Council of Northern and Central California and a faculty member at San Joaquin Valley College.
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Her nursing career in Fresno began in 1969, when she was hired as a staff nurse at Community Regional Medical Center (which was then Fresno Community Hospital.)
De La Cruz-Reyes, the daughter of farmworkers who dreamed as a 7-year-old of becoming a nurse, says the appointment to the Board of Registered Nursing is “a capstone on my career.”
On Wednesday, she talked about her path to becoming a nurse, her appointment to the board of nursing and what she hopes to accomplish in her new position. (Comments have been edited for clarity and brevity.)
Q: What is your background? Are you a native of the central San Joaquin Valley?
A: I was born in Sanger and went to Reedley schools. I graduated from Reedley High School in 1964.
When I was a young girl, at the age of 7, I knew I wanted to be a nurse. But when I got to high school, my counselor, they call you in and talk to you about career choices … and he looked at me and he shook his head and said, “No. You’re poor. You’re Mexican. You’re going to be a secretary.”
My junior year in I school high was placed in all the business courses, typing, shorthand.
I got a full ride scholarship to a business school, which I promptly gave back. My father said, “Why did you do that? We don’t have any money to send you to school.” But I said, “Dad, I don’t want to be a secretary. I want to be a nurse.”
Q: Where did you get your nursing degree?
A: I went to Reedley College for a year and then I had an uncle in San Jose and he knew about O’Connor Hospital and a nursing school there. I applied and was accepted.
My parents paid for it. My father never went to school a day in his life and my mother went to the eighth grade, but they both knew that education was the key to getting out of poverty. They would send me $10 every two weeks to pay for my food and everything else I wanted to buy.
I earned extra money typing my friends’ term papers. They were out dating and I was sitting there typing because I needed the money.
Q: Why did you want to serve on the nursing board?
A: I’ve been a nurse now for 47 years and I’ve always believed that when you get something you should give back. This is my way of giving back to my profession and to the state – to be able to give myself and my experience and my expertise.
I have both the clinical side of working in the hospital and the academia side of working with schools. I understand both sides pretty well and I can bring that to the table.
Q: Is there something you want to accomplish as a member of the Board of Nursing?
A: I want to ask the Board of Registered Nursing to bring one of its meetings to Fresno. We’ve never had a meeting in Fresno or the Central Valley. It’s good for students to be able to observe the work of the board.
Q: Are there issues in nursing that you want the board to address?
A: Simulation in training. I think simulation is really important to the education of nursing students and nurses.
Right now, the board basically allows 25 percent of your nursing school education time to be spent in simulation. I am hoping to get them to increase that number.
If you make a mistake, you don’t have to worry that you’re going to kill the mannequin. But if you make a mistake in the real world, it can do harm to a patient, and that’s what we want to prevent.
Q: What are some of the challenges for the members of board of nursing?
A: They’re going to have to stay on top of things because health care is changing. The Affordable Care Act is moving health care out into the community areas. We used to be all sick care and the outpatient was small, but now it’s all switching over and it’s about preventative care.
Q: Are there issues you want to personally address as a member of the board?
A: We still need nurses and we really need more minority nurses.
39 percent of Californians are Hispanic; 6.7 percent of nurses are Hispanic
I hope I can serve as a role model to minorities who can say, ‘She did it; I can do it too.’ A lot of times minorities don’t have a lot of confidence in themselves and the nursing program is not an easy program. It’s a difficult program.
Every opportunity I can get to talk to minority students, I say, ‘Never give up on your dream,’ because that is what got me through. No matter what they tell you, study hard, stick with it and someday you’ll reach your goal.
I’m writing a book, “But I Want To Be A Nurse.” It’s about my trip, my journey of keeping my dream alive.
I remember coming to Community hospital in 1969 and I could count on one hand the number of minority nurses. There were a lot of minorities in housekeeping and there were a lot of minorities in dietary. Now, I’m glad to see there are more minority nurses, but there’s not enough.
That will be my quest until I end my career, I guess.