Posted on Oct 2, 2019

Nursing Professors Honored for Advancing Hispanic Health

Nursing Professors Honored for Advancing Hispanic Health

Two University of South Florida College of Nursing professors were awarded major accolades recognizing their work in promoting health in underserved Hispanic communities in the U.S. and abroad.

Assistant professors Karla Maldonado, DrAP, CRNA, APRN, and Ivonne Hernandez, PhD, RN, IBCLC, were honored with faculty awards at Tuesday’s USF Hispanic Heritage Celebration Awards ceremony at the Marshall Student Center.

Dr. Maldonado, who teaches in the nurse anesthesia program, received the 2019 USF Status of Latinos (SoL) Faculty Award for her work with the San Lucas Foundation, a group she founded 10 years ago that provides life-changing humanitarian surgery and anesthesia care to underprivileged residents in Guatemala.

Dr. Maldonado said her passion to offer the surgical and anesthesia care to the underserved started more than a decade ago when she was diagnosed with a rare brain tumor and had it successfully removed after finding a top surgeon.

“I thought about all the people in the world who don’t have access to care like I do, and it became really important to me to help people that don’t,” she said. “I was very lucky, and I knew that was my calling — to help people.”

A few months after her surgery, she traveled on a medical mission trip to India and Guatemala. Shortly thereafter, she formed the foundation as part of her doctoral project, and her lifelong mission of serving the indigent Hispanic communities in rural Guatemala began.

That is also where she met her husband, a local Guatemalan surgeon.

“I just fell in love with the culture and the people and realized I could make a difference,” she said. “It became part of my life. It became part of me.”

To win a major university-wide award honoring her service to the Hispanic community is humbling, she said.

“I feel honored, really honored,” she said.

The weeklong trips include surgeries, as well as an educational training component for local health care providers. This past June, organizers focused on teaching skills in airway management, cardiac resuscitation, and perioperative nursing.

Dr. Maldonado said she has since learned that those critical lessons, including teaching them how to use a defibrillator, saved lives.

“Her life’s work to reduce the gap of health disparity in Guatemala and the Central American Hispanic community will continue on long after, because of her strong desire to not only treat those she serves, but to teach those who serve,” read the nomination letter.

Dr. Maldonado, who has been involved in nurse anesthesia education for 15 years, maintains a clinical practice with Envision Physician Services in northern Pinellas County. She also serves on the board of the Florida Association of Nurse Anesthetists and is the CRNA liaison for the state student nurse anesthetist committee.

The ceremony also honored the College of Nursing’s Dr. Hernandez, who is in Colombia working to establish a global partnership with the nursing college. Her daughter, Evelyn, accepted the award on her behalf.

Dr. Hernandez received the 2019 Hispanic Pathways Faculty Award for her trailblazing work in maternal health and breastfeeding practice, as well as, co-leading a global trip to Panama to facilitate community-based maternal childcare in clinics.

Established in 2014, the Hispanic Pathways Award recognizes USF faculty, staff, and students for outstanding research or outreach that creates pathways to improve the lives of Latinos.

“Dr. Hernandez is an inspiring figure who combats disparity issues and supports the health and welfare of Latino and Hispanic populations,” read her nomination letter.

The nomination cited Dr. Hernandez’s numerous accomplishments that directly improves the lives of Latinos, both locally and in Central America.

Dr. Hernandez serves as president of the local chapter of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses. Through that organization, she plans health fairs to promote self-care in the migrant-dominated Wimauma community, as well as other underserved neighborhoods.

In addition, she serves on the executive board of the Hillsborough County Breastfeeding Task Force and promotes maternal health and breastfeeding practice through the “MOM” project.

The SoL committee also recognized committee member Xavier Ramos, who is an admissions recruiter advisor at the College of Nursing and who served as master of ceremonies for the event.

Story by Elizabeth L. Brown, USF College of Nursing