Our Spotlight series highlights a new nurse from the SHIFT audience each month. We ask the same set of questions each time, but of course we get all kinds of answers. The individual stories and surprise twists in these conversations make us laugh and cry — and fill us with pride about nursing. Over time, we hope to discover both what makes each of us unique and what ties us all together as nurses.

Eduardo V. is a nursing student, visual artist, health advocate and filmmaker whose award-winning documentaries and short films touch on how culture impacts gender and sexual identity. Despite being at the start of his nursing career, his community health experience is well-established through art and activism work in the LGBTQIA+ immigrant communities of New York City. With one semester left in nursing school at Long Island University, Eduardo hopes to specialize in psychiatry to help patients with this foundational building block of their overall health.

Eduardo studied art history and painting in college. After getting his master’s degree in film, he began working with documentarians who were trying to capture stories of activism in the city, specifically for the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) movement, a.k.a. “Dreamers.” At that time, Eduardo was also working as a museum educator and teaching art as an adjunct professor. Through his involvement in “Dreamers” activism, Eduardo became connected with local nonprofits that support LGBTQIA+ and immigrant communities in New York City, including HIV/harm reduction centers and refugee humanitarian organizations.

An immigrant from the Dominican Republic, Eduardo’s award-winning documentaries and short films touch on sexual and gender identity issues and how traditional culture impacts the health of people in these communities. In 2022, Eduardo hopes to continue working on a documentary project about access to HIV medication in the Dominican Republic. Over the last five years, he’s met many LGBTQIA+ HIV positive people moving to the United States from the Caribbean because of the inaccessibility of antiretroviral HIV medication there compared to the United States. It’s one of many ways Eduardo hopes to shift the culture and health of his community.

The following conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Why did you decide to go into nursing?

Through my activism, I worked with the Dreamers Project, which led me to work with a nonprofit that focused on working with LGBTQIA+ homeless youth in New York. It was then that I realized I wanted to play a more active role within the community. I love education, and I love being a teacher, but I also wanted to work with the LGBTQIA+ community. And I got an opportunity to work for an organization here in New York to create programs for people who just recently settled into their first apartment. These are people who have been living on the streets for 20 years – queer youth who have been living in the train, foster care kids, mostly, from the LGBTQIA+ community. It was very important work for me.

During those years, I kept my studio practice as an artist. I did a short film about a queer person from the Dominican Republic who decided to transition and become a transgender woman. On top of that, I was painting and working in this nonprofit with the homeless population. One of the things that I noticed through that work — and as a consumer of the healthcare system here in America from the Dominican Republic — is that there was a big shortage of nurses, doctors and social workers from the community who understood LGBTQIA+ needs. … It was really hard for me to find a queer-friendly practitioner to get my yearly physical. I noticed that my clients were having a lot of issues with that too, so they were really timid about seeking care. Sometimes I even accompanied them to their doctor’s appointments.

I live in New York City, so you can imagine, if there is going to be queer-friendly care in this country, New York City and California probably are the biggest places for that. But I noticed that there weren’t a lot of people who I could refer to or connect to, even a primary doctor or a nurse practitioner. That’s when I realized I would love to get involved in the practice — because I noticed that the role of nurses is so important, especially in the ways that patients are going to select care and … digest the knowledge that will improve their care. I feel like our interactions with physicians can be good, but at the same time, I believe that nurses are the ones who make sure you take the bread home. It sounds funny, but they make sure that you know what you have to do. Education is such a big part of nursing. …

Being a nurse will connect with the way I want to be an advocate for a population that I belong to as well. … And then, working with nurses and seeing what they did with my clients at the nonprofit and how they interacted with them and created programs and workshops — I saw how they integrated education and how my background as a teacher could work really well within the nursing setting. Nursing has helped me find more of myself in this process. Coming as an artist and integrating myself into nursing has been a way to connect many missing dots of how to integrate my activism and my empathy toward other individuals with similar experiences.

Tell us about a time when it was really hard to be a nurse or a time that made you question being a nurse.

The hardest times for me were dealing with the limited ways people think about nursing and medicine in America. Specifically, a lot of nurses and peers I interact with, when they talk about the way that they understand the healthcare system, they have an obvious bias against people who come from different communities. [Their opinions] have discouraged me a lot. … You can touch it, the level of racism and the lack of knowledge of the other person next to you. I question it, and I fear my future environment sometimes. What if I have to “edit myself” to not ruffle any feathers? What do I say when somebody says that a person on Medicaid “doesn’t want to work”? I have found a lot of people who are going into the profession saying things like that, which is very scary and disheartening. And again, I’m in school … so I don’t let this comment fly by without open discussion, because I also want to understand how the other side of the equation thinks.

But that’s one of the things that as a professional nurse next year, when I get my license and I start working, it will be challenging how I negotiate my activism. I’m very passionate about what I believe. So, I worry how I’m going to relate with an institution — and with other people —  that don’t understand how important intersectionality is in terms of access to healthcare and the integration of culture and background. When there’s a lack of cultural knowledge, it’s a very myopic view. … It’s really hard when you hear somebody use terms like “welfare queen,” or say, “People don’t want to go back to work because they want to get the unemployment from COVID-19.” Because when they are making those comments, they are referring to Black and Brown people. They are not referring to their own communities. So those are the moments that I question why some people go into nursing. But I’m 100% sure. I don’t question going into nursing at all. I’ve been exposed to mentors and other nurses who have shown me just how incredible and magical healthcare and giving that service is, and how much of a change you can make in just a simple interaction with a patient in 15 minutes.

Who inspires you?

I have always been surrounded by people who have been interested in medicine. As I told you, I am from the Dominican Republic, so that was my first phase of understanding the importance of healthcare, primarily coming from women within my family. A very, very traditional and powerful group of women raised me … they were really important for my understanding of the world. One who had the biggest impact on me was my eldest aunt, who always wanted to be a nurse or related to the healthcare system somehow. She was, in a way, the “doctor” in the family. Although she never went to medical school, she was always listening to the doctor’s programs and the psychiatry programs on the radio and trying to integrate the interventions provided by healthcare professionals on the radio into our daily lives. … She was definitely one of my inspirations to get into nursing school and is why I find it so fascinating how education and nursing are key to producing good healthcare and healthy communities. I use her as an example of pursuing education, even if you cannot become directly involved in a field. Unfortunately, she comes from a very rural environment. They were farmers when she was young, so she was unable to study medicine. But as a kid, and still today, we would consider her the doctor of the family, because anytime that we have anything going on, we call her. She was one of the inspirations for me to understand the connection between education and health.

Describe your SHIFT BFF. Why are they your best friend on the job?

I have a couple of good friends, and we’re a very small group because we have very specific personalities. I feel like we study every day, the three of us: Zee, Delilah and I. Delilah is the one I interact with the most. Her support has helped me deal with a lot of the microaggressions that have happened during my education in the institution that I am in today. She’s Puerto Rican, but she grew up in the United States, so she understands those dynamics really, really well. Delilah is also, in a way, like an activist herself for her kids, who are also Brown and growing up in America. … And I feel like our relationship has been really instrumental for us to deal with the stress of nursing school and to understand the journey, because it’s not an easy journey to be in nursing school. In a way, [nursing school] activates any traumas that you have while it also activates your defenses, because you are in a profession that requires a lot of expertise and advocacy.

I feel like, without her, I wouldn’t be able to get through, because we laugh a lot…. But at the same time, having an ally that comes from a community close to mine and who understands helps me calm down. Sometimes, I can be really direct with people who are being slightly crass about different situations. She tries to play good cop, bad cop with me, to help me protect myself. Sometimes you think that because you are in school, you think you are safe to say your opinion…. But that’s not always true. You need your friends to help you understand what the angle is to get the degree, to interact with your professors…. And to focus on the end goal that is getting that life purpose and, hopefully, to become an entity of change in the profession.

Tell us something about your specialty in nursing that other nurses may not know.

I do think that I will enjoy any aspect of nursing. But I want to work in mental health, because I feel like that’s what inspired me, when I was working with the homeless population in New York, to get more involved. … My professors always say, “You should do bedside,” because I’m really good with people. But there is such a big gap on mental health within the Latinx and Black community in the U.S., in New York, and even worldwide. Mental health is never prioritized. So that’s where I want to go, although I enjoy all the rotations that I have been in. I like being around people and trying to be helpful, easing their fears as best I can.

If you’re a nurse in a med-surg floor or in a postop or ICU or neuro, you basically are applying the meat of nursing with all the interventions and creating nursing plans. And I feel like mental health is very particular and interchangeable. There can be a lot of similarity, but you can have a lot of different things [in mental health care] that aren’t necessarily applicable into a more med-surg setting. … Especially in the pandemic, there’s been a lot of people suffering from mental health issues. Before, the way healthcare was trying to sort it out was like, “If it costs $5, let’s invest 25 cents.” But the pandemic showed that mental health must be in the forefront of any type of health education because poor mental health can lead to poor health in everything else.

I love the mind, and I love how interventions like mindfulness, medication, cognitive behavioral therapy and other alternative therapies can heal trauma and can help you find tools to evolve. Before nursing school, I did an internship in a needle exchange organization on the Lower East Side in Manhattan, and I was able to see how poor mental health is one of the first factors for people to not only enter the substance abuse realm but, at the same time, to end up being homeless in the United States. … If it is such a powerful, common factor for people to end up living on the street for 20 years or for people to end up living a life with addiction, unmanageable addiction, then we have to prioritize good mental health hygiene. … Somebody that is really depressed might not take their medication. Somebody that is really overwhelmed with life or dealing with anxiety might not go to the doctor to do the yearly check-ins. All aspects of medicine are important, of course, but I feel like it’s about the integration of all of them, in a holistic way, to give the patient the best care that they can access. If we don’t treat mental health, you can put three meals in somebody’s mouth, but it’s not enough.

Describe your community’s health. What is your hope for your community’s health in the future?

It’s hard to find queer-affirming care in the community. But even if you do find people that work within the community, they are not of the community. So it’s hard to find a LGBTQIA+ doctor or primary care nurse practitioner, and it’s even harder to find one that is Black or Brown. I have a lot of white doctors, which is fine because they’re great, and we love them. But I also have this craving to be able to talk to somebody that, besides understanding my lifestyle, can also relate to me and provide me with a safe space. When you are a queer individual living in this country, the idea of a safe space becomes really important. … I learned that if you have a practitioner that can relate to your experience, the health outcomes can be better. And that’s something that has been proven by research — that people who belong to the community, or people who participate in the community, or people who are part of the biodiversity of that community — when they practice in that community, the health outcomes are more beneficial and more successful.

So that’s something that I have noticed, even in countries like Cuba. They have more community-based medicine, and I feel like I would love to be part of something like that. It’s one of the reasons why I wanted to be a nurse — to be able to work with people of color who want to have a premium experience in healthcare, and to foster safe care for people who need that space available. Again, nothing wrong with going to a doctor from another community, but at the same time, I feel like now more than ever we need representations in all aspects for healthcare in this country.

What is your vision for the future of nursing?

I’m very excited when I hear many of the people that come on the SHIFT Talk podcast because it makes me really hopeful. I see a lot of fearless people, a lot of activists, people with different backgrounds, people who come, like me, from the arts and have an activist background. And then in my own networks, I see people who come from culinary arts, people who come from dancing, people who come from all these different professional practices and come into nursing to enrich the profession. Nursing is probably one of the most dynamic professions that we have right now in the healthcare system, because it’s encouraged to bring your own personal experience. You can start your career as a nurse very young and do it at the beginning, but you can also come into nursing later on, and bring the expertise of a life that you have lived that will improve and enrich the nursing profession. For example, I’m thinking about a friend of mine — she was a dancer for 15 years, and she couldn’t continue to dance because it’s a very hard art to practice on your body, and she became a nurse, and now, she works in physical therapy. … She brings all her knowledge of how to utilize the body, plus the scientific knowledge that she has acquired, into the nursing profession. Think about what that’s going to bring to the life of a patient who comes with body aches. My friend already understands the body in so many different dimensions — not only the scientific, but also the artistic — as a person who uses their body to perform. So I feel like that’s the beauty of nursing. It’s very dynamic. And all of our backgrounds make it more humane and specific for the needs of the patients.

Art and nursing connects with your humanity and the ways that you appreciate the world around you. The word “dynamic” applies to all aspects of nursing, so I feel like, in a way, art is just another way to research more about the human condition, specifically getting to know more about how humans interact with each other and learn from one another. And good nursing … activates that all the time.

How can nurses be better to each other?

Educate yourself about the diversity of humanity. Understand that we are all different, and that we all have something to teach each other. I love being taught by a lot of other people. I love to learn from other people’s experiences of life, culture — things like that. But it’s important for all nurses to understand that nursing is not just about the salary that you’re expecting to get because the Department of Labor told you that that’s what nurses are making. Understand that you’re going to be working with a group of individuals with different experiences, and that you need to understand how to interact, how to teach and how to receive feedback as well. But it’s all about being open to other people who might think differently. If they think differently, that doesn’t mean their opinions are not valuable and aren’t important for you or can change your life. … The journey [of becoming a nurse] is so personal. … It takes you to places emotionally and physically and tests your endurance and humanity at so many different levels. But to be able to be better to each other, also, it’s a little bit about being better to ourselves. You could neglect yourself a lot while you are in nursing school. So, that practice should start first with the self, and then you can apply it to the people around you.

Describe one of your best shifts ever. 

This was a clinical experience that changed my understanding of healthcare, humanity and empathy. It was on a med-surg floor in my neuro rotation. It was really powerful because it was a very young gentleman who had an accident that resulted in a head injury, and he basically was unconscious in an induced coma with inflammation in his brain. … There was obstruction of different areas in the brain, and the brain wasn’t responding to any type of medication. And unfortunately, his prognosis was really, really sad. When I first met him, I was providing some oral care with the help of the nurse that I was shadowing that day. And another gentleman comes in and puts on the radio. It started playing reggaeton, and I’m like, “What’s going on here? This is supposed to be low-light. This patient can have seizures.” And the nurse told me, “No, he’s a nurse too, but they are best friends. And he comes here every day. He gives him a bed bath. He plays his favorite music.” Because the prognosis was, unfortunately, very negative, and we knew that it would be a matter of time before he departed.

This was a queer individual who hasn’t been in touch with his family in many, many years. So, the only people who came to visit him was this friend — who happened to be a nurse — and other individuals who were in the LGBTQIA+ community. They would have conversations with him about his life. It helped me see that even if you select your family, you can still be looked after, even if you are in such a vulnerable position. It really, really touched me a lot. I feel like that experience also showed me that we shouldn’t be scared. If you try to do good, then maybe somebody will show up in that final dance for you.

But I feel that case really, really touched me on a very deep level, as a person from the same community as this patient. I feel like many of the stories that we see about healthcare and accidents and people dying in that community involve so much violence and darkness. But for me as an LGBTQIA+ person — and a Brown person like this patient — to see that he was able to create a whole community around him, even without his family involved, [it was touching]. It was people who loved him, accepted him, took care of him and worked with him. That was really touching, at least for a person that comes from a very traditional background like me.

What I appreciate a lot about the nurse that I was working with, and the nurses that were looking after him, was that they let me be a part of all the processes that were happening around this patient because he was my first patient. And I immediately did my concept map about him. It was then that I understood the importance of the nursing profession, and how instrumental we are in the processes of people letting go of other people.

Learn more about Eduardo:

He’s on Instagram @eduverandi

Here’s his LinkedIn

Learn more about Eduardo’s films and documentary on his website.

These links are not endorsed by SHIFT and the views expressed within are their own.

If you’re interested in sharing your story for the SHIFT Talker Spotlight, please reach out here or email us at hello@shiftnursing.com.