Dr. Catherine Torres, Secretary of the Department of Health, visits Eastern New Mexico Medical Center Tuesday evening. (Mark Wilson Photo)
Local nurses got an extra dose of inspiration when New Mexico Department of Health Secretary Catherine Torres dropped by to speak to them during a nurse’s meeting, Tuesday evening.
As attendees savored hors d’oeuvres at the Eastern New Mexico Medical Center’s cafeteria, Torres spoke of one of the greatest challenges within the nursing field: Getting and retaining new nurses. She also said that getting health practitioners to southeast New Mexico is a challenge — this includes behavioral health providers, which she feels tie in closely with other medical doctors.
Torres said the average age of nurses in New Mexico ranges from late 40s to early 50s.
“I don’t know where all the young nurses are going,” Torres said. She does have several hypotheses as to why there are hardly any young nurses, including the fact that many young people are not careful about their choices and do not realize that many things they do can haunt them for years.
Someone with a negative record, Torres said, would find it difficult to enter the medical field.
Torres said that, today, those who are 16- to 24-years-old lead a very different life than she did at that age. For example, she said having 500 friends on a social network was not a priority to her when she was a teenager.
Behavioral and psychological dispositions have also changed over the generations.
“We have a lot of kids who are depressed,” Torres said.
Torres said one way to solve this issue is through educating children as young as middle-school age, something that is already happening through a program provided through the University of New Mexico.
Another way to help the issue of a lack of young nurses is to retain the ones who are already in New Mexico.
Torres said many young nurses might be tempted to move to larger cities, but the real sense of community, she said, is felt when one is a nurse in a smaller town.
“In a small community you’re … well-respected,” Torres said to the nurses and nursing students in attendance. “A … nurse makes a big difference in the community, and the community really appreciates that.”
Torres said she owes much of what she has accomplished to being a health practitioner in a community that is not necessarily a big city. She is a pediatrician in Las Cruces who has had the opportunity to not only serve as the state’s secretary of health but was also appointed to the U.S.-Mexico Border Health Commission in 1999 by then-President Bill Clinton.
Torres spoke of the importance of good nurses because of their proximity to patients. She said substance abuse and liver failure are key issues in New Mexico, and many patients abuse prescription drugs. This is a problem that nurses could help lessen, Torres said.
“Even though you don’t prescribe it, you certainly give it,” she said of drugs that could potentially become dangerous when abused. “You’re the ones that tell us what’s going on with our patients. … Nurses are our eyes and ears.”