‘Everything I do, I’ve done for my son’

Patricia De La Cruz
Graduating School of Nursing student sets inspirational example

A single mother, Patricia De La Cruz had to overcome significant hurdles before applying to nursing school. Living in a new country, she needed to learn English, take prerequisite courses and learn to drive. It was a steep climb, but she reached a major peak when she was accepted to the Bachelor of Science program at UT Health San Antonio’s School of Nursing in the fall of 2021.

After starting the nursing program, De La Cruz captured the hearts of faculty members who were as inspired by her as she was by them. She dove into her studies with the kind of vigor that any patient would want of their future nurse. She absorbed information like a sponge, grateful to partake in the familial experience that included mentors supporting her every step of the way.

“The support here from the teachers {is great},” said De La Cruz. “I love my faculty. I was going through a divorce and they were able to help. They were so willing to work with me,” she continued, adding that her fellow classmates were also like family. “I didn’t feel competition {at UT Health San Antonio}. It’s like a team. Everybody is helping each other.”

Determined to be a role model for her now 6-year-old son Arjen Grey De La Cruz, and inspired by nurses from her past experiences, De La Cruz not only gave everything she had in her classes, she volunteered her time in the community using her bilingual skills to teach health promotion lessons in Spanish. She volunteered at a residential center for mothers recovering from substance abuse disorders, led service activities for vulnerable populations and partook in leadership roles in a variety of student organizations.

“Patricia is an inspiration to me and truly has made me a better nurse and faculty {member},” said Laura Sisk DNP, RN, assistant professor/clinical, School of Nursing. “I give thanks for having the honor of teaching Patricia during her nursing journey. {She} simply is the heart and soul of caring and was meant to be a nurse.”

De La Cruz’s efforts will be rewarded when she receives her undergraduate nursing degree on May 21, showing her young son that diligence and community service are key pieces of the equation for success.

Inspiration from a neighbor

The sixth of 10 children — two of whom passed away at young ages — De La Cruz grew up in Yacuiba, Tarija, Bolivia. She was particularly inspired by her family’s caring neighbor, a nurse who worked at a local hospital.

Whenever her parents or siblings needed medical attention, their neighbor would drop what she was doing and attend to their needs. To this day, De La Cruz appreciates the compassion and dedication that inspired her future endeavors to become a nurse.

“I wanted to be like her,” she said.

A new path

While in Bolivia, De La Cruz began studying petroleum engineering. She was one of only five girls in the program at the Gabriel René Moreno Autonomous University.

While in the program, she began conversing with her future husband— a McAllen, Texas resident who was in Bolivia on a church mission — via emails after an introduction by her sister. After emailing back and forth, the pair met face to face and fell in love. In 2008, Patricia moved to Texas to be with her future husband and the pair married.

Moving to Texas was a challenging transition for De La Cruz, who didn’t speak English or know how to drive.

“The first month, I was just crying,” she recalled, adding that she resolved to learn the new language.

“I started watching PBS KIDS,” she said. “It was my English teacher.”

Within two years, De La Cruz was speaking English and in 2011, she began taking prerequisite courses for nursing at South Texas College in McAllen, Texas. There, she was a member of the biology club, the honors program and participated in a leadership academy. By 2013, she was taking courses at both South Texas College and at the University of Texas–Pan American, now University of Texas, Rio Grande Valley.

Later, when she was pregnant with Arjen, she continued going to school and stayed through August 2016. Shortly after her son was born, the couple and their newborn moved to Austin. There, De La Cruz enrolled in a phlebotomy class.

After encountering marital difficulties, she and her husband divorced, and De La Cruz and her son moved back to San Antonio to live with her husband’s parents in 2020. During the pandemic, she worked to pay for driving lessons. She learned how to drive and made the trek to Austin to complete her phlebotomy class, where she was a top student.

Later, she was accepted into a medical assistant program in San Antonio and after completing that program, she applied and was accepted to UT Health San Antonio.

After starting her studies, she benefited from the caring support she received from UT Health San Antonio’s Student Counseling Center and paid it forward, volunteering at health fairs, community centers, churches and clinics where refugees from Iran and Pakistan sought medical care.

“It was so humbling … so important, the need for help,” De La Cruz said. “I loved the experience.”

One of De La Cruz’s mentors, Kelly McGlothen-Bell, PhD, RN, IBCLC, assistant professor, School of Nursing, praised De La Cruz’s commitment to compassionate patient care. “Patricia demonstrates many of the key attributes of a great nurse: a true passion for patient care, empathy for all, a keen eye to detail and dedication to the profession,” she said. “She consistently goes above and beyond in everything that she does and seeks to continuously learn and grow in her calling.”

As part of her volunteer efforts, De La Cruz also helped women with substance use disorders at Casa Casa Mía, a recovery home for women and children in San Antonio.

Patricia De La Cruz and Christie L. Harper, MSN, RN, assistant professor/clinical

“Nursing is a calling, and Patricia lives out that call daily through her compassion and caring for others in need,” said Christie L. Harper, MSN, RN, assistant professor/clinical. “While managing her own rigorous studies and caring for her family, she uses her ‘spare’ time to help others as they struggle to improve their lives.” In an inspirational message to de La Cruz, Harper added, “Patricia, truly, you have the heart of a nurse, and many lives will be better because of your nursing skill and your caring touch.”

James A. Cleveland, PhD, MSN, RN, director, Center for Simulation Innovation/assistant professor, School of Nursing, said that when it comes to patients and their care, De La Cruz “is nothing short of being a valiant advocate for them.” He added, “As a learner, her sense of wonderment and professionalism to the nursing profession truly separates her from her peers. Mind you, she is surrounded by peers of the highest acumen and yet, she stands out … I hold Ms. De La Cruz in the highest regard.”

In addition to her volunteer efforts, De La Cruz has also participated in many student organizations. She served as treasurer for UT Health San Antonio’s Black Student Nurses’ Association and was a member of the International Nursing Student Association and the National Student Nurses’ Association.

Recently, she was recognized during a Student Government awards ceremony with a Student Advocate For Social Justice Award and a Clinical Excellence Award. She was also recognized by the university’s nursing program with two medals — one for clinical service and the other for research.

“The world needs more people like Patricia,” Sisk said. “She is a shining star and a gift to all. She has touched the lives of her patients, and in the process, she has touched the lives of many others.”

A bright future

Patricia De La Cruz and School of Nursing Dean Sonya Hardin, PhD, MBA/MHA, APRN, FAAN

De La Cruz recently completed an immersion course at Metropolitan Methodist Hospital as part of a clinical requirement for one of her classes. There, she had the opportunity to be in the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit, or NICU.

School of Nursing Dean Sonya Hardin, PhD, MBA/MHA, APRN, FAAN, said De La Cruz has a bright future ahead. “Patricia is a compassionate nurse that will provide excellent care given her diligence and critical thinking skills,” she said.

As she looks to the future, De La Cruz would like to become a NICU and public health nurse who works with mothers and babies. But that’s not all. She also wants to continue to help community members and ultimately, earn her PhD and teach at UT Health San Antonio.

Her advice to future nursing students: “Don’t just go to class and go home,” she said. “Get to know the organizations on campus. Just get involved with volunteer service. Know your professors.”

De La Cruz also offered some humble advice to students who are single parents. “To all the single parents going to school who may sometimes feel guilty and sometimes go home late and (your child) is already asleep, it’s worth it because they will see what you’re doing,” she said with tears.

“Everything I do, I’ve done for my son — for him to see that his mom is an example,” she said. “I want him to see that as a single mom, I keep pushing.”

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