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A panel discussion during the 2022 AL DÍA Top Nurses, featuring Dr. Daisy Lara (left) and Valerie Caraballo (center) and moderated by Dr. Margarita David (right). Photo: Peter Fitzpatrick/AL DÍA News.
A panel discussion during the 2022 AL DÍA Top Nurses, featuring Dr. Daisy Lara (left) and Valerie Caraballo (center) and moderated by Dr. Margarita David (right). Photo: Peter Fitzpatrick/AL DÍA News.

The realities of the nursing profession

A panel discussion between three nursing professionals at the 2022 AL DÍA Top Nurses event highlighted the important nature of the field.

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No matter the profession, for an individual to truly succeed and make an impact, the influence of mentors and others who are already in the field is paramount. 

This can especially be said about the nursing profession.

During the 2022 AL DÍA Top Nurses event, a panel discussion — moderated by Dr. Margarita David, and featuring Valerie Caraballo and Dr. Daisy Lara — highlighted their journeys, the highs and lows, their individual contributions to the field, and advice to the next generation of the profession.

For both Caraballo and Lara, their first role models were their parents. 

“They put down a foundation,” said Lara.

Her morals and her commitment to treating people with respect — both of which are huge in the nursing profession — were taught by her parents. 

Caraballo noted a similar response.

“My parents were the first ones who imparted the values that I have: compassion, my drive, my integrity,” she said.

It was her mother, in particular, who pushed her to attend college and begin her journey as a professional. 

Once each of them started navigating their professional careers, they found others who helped guide them.

For Lara, it was the National Association of Hispanic Nurses (NAHN), which she credits for “motivating us and empowering us to be better,” she said. 

Caraballo discovered the National Conference of Puerto Rican Women (NACOPRW), Inc. 

As the first in her family to attend college, it was hard to navigate that critical step in her life.

“So they started to mentor me and empower me and inspired me,” she said of the organization. “They were instrumental in helping me continue.”

Later on, she too, discovered NAHN, which helped her pursue and complete two master’s programs and eventually obtain her doctorate. 

As Lara was navigating her career, there are three pieces of advice that she received, which she often shared with her students to this day. 

“Always be confident… always be competent… and always know how to say, ‘no,’” said Lara. 

The Right Career Decision

When choosing a career path, many can pinpoint a moment in which they are able to confirm that they made the right choice for themselves. 

For Caraballo, when she began volunteering as a college student at St. Christopher’s Hospital, she knew she wanted to enter into a career in healthcare. 

One particular day while she was volunteering, a Spanish-speaking father ran into the emergency room in a panic with his young son, draped in his arms and bleeding. 

“He said in Spanish, ‘help me, help. Don’t let my son die,’” Caraballo recalled. “The nurse next to me was American and didn’t really understand what he said.”

“So, I felt instrumental, I was able to translate,” she added. 

While volunteering, Caraballo got the chance to experience the process that nurses and doctors often go through to help their patients during times of emergency. 

It was very empowering for her to witness that.

“I knew at that moment I wanted to be a pediatric emergency room nurse,” said Caraballo. 

She did so for more than a decade of her career. 

For Lara, her career path in the healthcare field was influenced at a much younger age. 

As the daughter of a Puerto Rican mother and Dominican father, a young Lara was often the one responsible for translating for her parents, particularly her mother.

She would also help fill out paperwork.

“So, I’ve been a caretaker my whole life,” she said. “I knew while I was in elementary school, that’s what I wanted to do.” 

“Just seeing the way healthcare is, I knew it could equal change for people like my mom,” Lara added. 

Contributions to the Field

Healthcare professionals often operate with the approach of always putting their patients and clients at the forefront.

In simpler terms, the goal is to make a positive impact.

For Caraballo, she loves what she does and ultimately made the decision to expand her impact beyond simply the bedside.

“I want to be in the community, I want to educate families and kids about things that I'm doing in the hospital… and make a difference,” she said.

Caraballo has been dedicated to utilizing her public health nursing degree to become an instrumental cog to Philadelphia, its Latino and other diverse communities. 

With her connection to NAHN, and other Latino-serving organizations like Concilio and Congreso, she has been able to help provide crucial information to diverse communities who need that information.

“I feel like I have been impactful in that way,” she said.

In addition, through NAHN, Caraballo has become a valued mentor and even helped create the first scholarship program in Philadelphia to help high school and college nursing students become nurses. 

Lara is also sure that she made the right career choice, and made quite the impact, as well.

“I have been able to take the experiences that I’ve gained throughout my career and actually change healthcare delivery for my patients, change policies [and] create positions,” said Lara. 

As a nurse practitioner, she noted that she is able to see how her patients and clients physically and mentally change for the better.

Advice for the Future Generation

The COVID-19 pandemic, in many ways, unearthed the various challenges of the healthcare profession overall.

Both Lara and Caraballo had their share of challenges navigating the pandemic. However, it also provided them with lessons, as well.

“COVID was a time of reflection and allowed me to sit back and really look at my life,” said Lara.

In her physiatry practice, she was used to seeing patients face-to-face, before the sudden shift to telehealth.

As can be imagined, a huge adjustment period had to take place for her clients to become accustomed to the new way of care. 

That experience led Lara to launching her own practice, and allow her patients to return to the office.

To this end, her advice to the next generation of nurses is not to be afraid to think about the box. 

“Always think outside and figure out how you can make it better for the patient and do it,” she said. “If you have an idea, do it, take the risk.”

For Caraballo, the pandemic caused her to lose two of her jobs. 

Knowing the challenges healthcare workers were going through, she couldn’t sit aside without lending a helping hand. 

So, she worked with military crews, traveled across the U.S. and helped individuals, families, the elderly population and more, who were battling COVID.

“It was an opportunity,” said Caraballo.

That is her advice to the next generation: learn about the different areas within the field, and find new opportunities.

“You can start at the bedside — you need to learn how to work with patients, how to give meds and learn the whole aspect before you start looking around — I feel that’s a good foundation for a brand new nurse.”

As someone who has done everything from HR to research to teaching and entrepreneurship — all within the nursing field — she is aware of the many various opportunities that exist for those aspiring to start their own path, or pivot into a new one.

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