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Alumna Living the Dream While Helping Others
The daughter of a migrant worker, Barbara Aranda-Naranjo, Ph.D., RN, FAAN, looked every day at a picture taped inside her closet of a little girl dressed like a nurse. She was about 8 years old when her mother cut the picture out of a magazine and told her that one day she would be a nurse.
Today, Dr. Aranda-Naranjo is the associate provost for civic engagement at the University of Incarnate Word in San Antonio following a career in public health spanning 38 years. She has served in many roles over the years including as the nurse manager of a family practice on San Antonio’s west side, assistant director of a community HIV center, clinical professor with the UT Health Science Center San Antonio, and senior public health advisor at the Office of Global Health Affairs with the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration.
No matter her role, however, she has remained consistent in listening to the needs of the community. A quality honed as a child in her Houston neighborhood quietly watching and helping her mother, aunts and uncles take care of their neighbors in need.
“My mother was a great influence,” says Dr. Aranda-Naranjo who is one of nine siblings. “If anyone had a problem, she was there to help them. She instilled that in me.
When people were sick in our neighborhood, she would send us to take them chicken soup; if an elderly neighbor needed to have his hair combed, one of us would go; if someone wanted to be wheeled outside who was bound to a wheelchair, we went to help.”
These early experiences became the foundation on which Dr. Aranda-Naranjo built her nursing career. She attended St. Edwards University in Austin upon her high school graduation from Incarnate Word Academy in Houston. After being accepted into the School of Nursing at the UT Health Science Center San Antonio, she chose to complete her bachelor’s degree in nursing which she did in 1979.
“It was a rigorous program,” she recalled. “It was difficult because I was away from home, and from every level, academic and cultural, it was stressful. There was no one for me to emulate, and it made me doubt myself. I didn’t pass my fourth semester, but a professor, Julie Meyer, M.S.N., Class of 1976, was instrumental in listening to me and encouraging me to complete the program. I even returned home. My mother didn’t understand and sent me to our family doctor. He assured me that I could do it, and told me how much I was needed in health care, and I needed to hear that. You need someone who has already made it to say, ‘You can do it too.’ ”
Dr. Aranda-Naranjo reapplied to the School of Nursing and completed her B.S.N., but that experience of self-doubt, she said, made her a more reflective practitioner. “In nursing, you deal a lot with patients’ failures or decisions they have made that haven’t been the best for their health,” she said, recalling her work with HIV/AIDS patients in the early 1980s. For example, during physicians’ training, a colleague who was director of the HIV center was asked, “Why should we help these people? Don’t they deserve it (HIV/AIDS)?”
She has never forgotten her colleague’s response. He picked up the fat around his stomach and said, “Do you see this? When I have my heart attack, you will have to take care of me, and I’m a doctor. I should know better, but we all have to support each other.”
Dr. Aranda-Naranjo said, “I remember that, and I know it takes someone to walk through it with them. It shows how fragile we can be as human beings and how courageous we can be when we work together and support each other.”
Dr. Aranda-Naranjo advises current and future nursing students to be ready for global health care because whatever happens in the world from a health perspective, impacts everyone. The best way to help a person, family or community be healthy is to give them the tools to make the right decisions within their own environment.
“If you are going to be tired at night, be tired for something good. If people aren’t helping, others can’t live their dream, and everyone should have the opportunity to live at least some part of their dream.”
From her time as a child helping those in need in her neighborhood to her work as a public health advisor on a national level, Dr. Aranda-Naranjo has left her mark on community health and nursing, just as her mother predicted she would.
By Salwa Choucair