By Carol Weir
When Mariela Moreno Nava’s younger sister was diagnosed with leukemia at age four, the family’s medical odyssey began.
Because they lived in a tiny town far from a major hospital, her mom and sister stayed in a Ronald McDonald House while her sister received treatment. Moreno Nava, who was 15, stayed home and cared for her infant brother while her stepdad worked long hours to support the family financially. These dark days were the first step on a journey that would lead Moreno Nava to choose Nursing as her career and to be nationally recognized as an outstanding student.
“I noticed that it was the nurses who comforted us and educated us about what to expect and how to care for my sister,” she said.
Fast forward more than a decade: Morena Nava’s sister has fully recovered and remembers little from her illness. The baby brother she cared for is now a thriving 10-year-old. And Moreno Nava, a Nursing major at the University of South Carolina Beaufort, recently won a highly competitive nationwide scholarship from the National Hispanic Health Foundation (NHHF). She is one of only two nursing students chosen for this award and the only undergraduate. She will graduate from USCB with a B.S.N. in Nursing in May 2023.
Moreno Nava is from Mattawa, Wash., and graduated from Wahluke High School. Her mom is from Mexico and didn’t speak much English when her sister fell ill, so Moreno Nava saw it was important for health care professionals to communicate with patients and their families in their own language.
“I knew then that I wanted to be a nurse,” said Moreno Nava, who is bilingual. “I look forward to serving all my patients and especially Spanish-speaking patients.”
Hispanics are the largest ethnic group in the United States, yet there is a dearth of Hispanic health professionals with cultural and linguistic skills to deliver quality care for this growing population. In 2004, NHHF established the National Hispanic Health Professional Student Scholarship program and for medical, nursing, dental, pharmacy, public health, and health policy students with outstanding academic records, leadership, and who are committed to serving Hispanics.
Each year in New York City, the foundation holds an awards gala for the recipients of the $10,000 scholarship. Morena Nava initially didn’t plan to attend due to a heavy load of schoolwork, but changed her mind when classmate Jesse Elliott encouraged her to go.
“The nursing faculty was very understanding,” she said.
Elliott and her husband Ricardo joined Moreno Nava on the trip, which was her first time in New York.
Moreno Nava, who lives in Beaufort and serves in the U.S. Army Reserve, is the first in her family to attend college. Her parents work in apple orchards in Washington State. Laboring alongside them during her summer vacations taught her to value hard work, made her appreciate their sacrifices and led her to strive for a professional degree, she said.
Read more about the National Hispanic Health Foundation’s Scholarship program at: https://www.nhmafoundation.org/the-hispanic-health-professional-student-scholarship