Meet Andrea Serrano, a Chicana Latina Scholarship Recipient, Who Strives to Make Change

“My grandmother’s experience as an uninsured low-income diabetic, trying to manage her illness, exposed me to the inequities within our healthcare system,” said Andrea Serrano.

Serrano, born and raised in San Francisco, is a graduate student pursuing a Master of Science in Nursing at the University of San Francisco (USF). Her desire to pursue a graduate degree and a Clinical Nurse Leader License stems from her desire to improve and invigorate the community in which she was raised.

As a recipient of the Chicana Latina Foundation Scholarship, Serrano will receive $1,500 to apply toward her education. The SFPUC and its social impact partner, Water Resources Engineering, Inc. sponsored two Chicana Latina Foundation scholarships for Latina college students with residency in San Francisco.

Andrea Serrano (left) with her family.

“I heard about the scholarship through USF. A lot of the scholarships available out there do not apply toward graduate programs, but I always looked for opportunities just in case,” she shared. “Growing up in San Francisco, my family was always really active in the community and they still are. I heard about the Chicana Latina Foundation in the past. When I looked into scholarship opportunities, I found one that I was qualified for through the Foundation. I said to myself – why not? Any little bit helps.”

Serrano said that she really liked the Foundation’s initiatives in promoting higher education for females interested in attending college or pursuing graduate degrees. “I think this is something that is lacking the community, especially for Latinas. I have not see many Latinas go into the STEM fields and I liked that the Foundation’s mission is to promote STEM in the community. Because it is a diverse group that is selected, they also looked at applicants that go into fields that are lacking this diversity,” said Serrano.

Her journey toward a Master entry-level Registered Nurse degree started when she was an undergraduate student at the University of California, Santa Barbara. There, she double majored in Law and Society and Chicano(a) Studies. The classes she took both inspired her drive for change and activism, which she had previously thought was a career in law.

Serrano was the first in her family to attend college and went on to graduate with a law degree. She had thought about going into law because that was her first time being exposed to community activism. With insight and counsel from mentors in that field, she knew working closely with people was more aligned with her passions. As the recession hit after graduation, she sought guidance from her family on what to do next. With encouragement from her father, Serrano decided to go back to school and pursue a degree focused in health and medicine.

“I have Type 1 Diabetes and have always been interested in health. My grandmother also had diabetes and my interest stemmed from going to appointments with her. I saw my grandmother’s burden of not having adequate health care, including communicating about preventative measures,” said Serrano.

Andrea Serrano (right) with her grandmother.

During appointments with her grandmother, Serrano was asked to translate and interpret for her, and realized that she should not have to. “Patients should be adequately educated and cared for by their providers and if they do not speak the language, a medical translator should be made available,” she reflected. “I believe the cultural competency was lacking in my grandmother’s care and that lack of support attributed to her deteriorating health. Health coaching and education are critical in establishing good health habits and made me want to focus on nutrition, exercise and holistic health.”

Serrano decided to start take science prerequisite classes at City College and Skyline. There, she fell in love with microbiology and anatomy, expanded her understanding of health on a micro-scale, and learned more about health and nutrition on physiological level.

While completing her courses, her father encouraged her to look into a nursing degree. “He shared that as a nurse, I can reach more people and help them,” she shared. “Once I finished my prerequisite classes, I started applying for schools. I was drawn to USF because of their clinical nurse leader program. You can get a masters degree as a Registered Nurse, and also sit for an Clinical Nursing Leader licensing exam.”

Serrano was accepted into USF’s program and took courses that empowered students to look to change systems that could help reduce medical errors, improve and streamline processes, and to be a good fiscal steward.

“The cost of healthcare is growing everyday. As nurses, we are not only completing tasks, we are trained to be critical thinkers and find solutions,” she shared. “Making a change not just for the people, but changing the entire institution. It was not easy. All throughout my education career, math and writing didn’t come to me easily. My dad would work harder to get me a tutor, to ensure i was successful in school.”

Andrea Serrano (left) with her La Clinica Cohort and Professor Dr. Kaddoura.

Serrano shared that as the cost of healthcare is just continues to increase, she believes her role in the community is to help educate about preventative measures, exercise and lifestyle changes. Looking back, Serrano wishes she could reverse time and bring this knowledge to her grandmother. “If she had other nurses who spoke Spanish and invested in her health, she would have had her own urgency to be a better manager of her own health. That’s what I want to do now. That was my case study as a child. I still want to change that,” she said.

Serrano is in her final semester at the University of San Francisco and just took the Clinical Nursing License examination. She found out that she passed the exam and is now officially a Registered Nurse.

“It was really exciting to find out the results. The burden of getting into school and passing this exam has been lifted,” said Serrani. “As my classmates and I complete our final semester, we are working on implementing an improvement project with a local nonprofit. This project focuses on improving the nursing role at that organization, so they can maximize this role to improve patient care and patient outcomes.”

As graduation is nearing, Serrano is building a portfolio of work along with letters of recommendation and places to apply for entry-level nursing jobs. She is looking for opportunities for new-grads to conduct quality improvement programs, similar to her final project at USF. Serrano is also interested in nursing opportunities focused on primary care or bedside nursing.

“I am not going to limit myself, because the experience in my first year out of college will help me grow my skills and knowledge to move into a specialty,” she shared. “My hope is to go into the emergency department or in an environment that focuses on critical care and prevention. I want to give back to my community.”

Andrea Serrano (first row, far left) Celebrating the last day of Med-Surgery II Clinical with San Francisco General Hospital colleagues.