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Alumni Spotlight: Evelyn Santos is Breaking Barriers in Mental Health Care

  By Gianluca D'Elia
  Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Evelyn Santos receives her diploma at the May 2023 graduation ceremony.

Nurses have always been at the forefront of addressing health disparities, and that’s a part of the role that Evelyn C. Santos ’23N (MS), BSN, RN, PMHN-BC, has never shied away from.

When she joined the School of Nursing’s Leadership in Health Care Systems (LHCS) master’s program, she had already built a reputation at the University of Rochester Medical Center as a fierce advocate for underserved populations.

Her years of experience in psychiatric and mental health nursing have inspired her work. Santos is the former lead nurse of UR Medicine’s Lazos Fuertes Clinic, Upstate New York’s only bilingual outpatient mental health clinic. It’s a role that she developed and implemented herself, leveraging the ability of nurses to build strong ties with the communities they serve.

“Working with the Latino community was personally important to me. I knew my work made a significant impact on patient outcomes,” Santos said. “Research shows that to improve treatment outcomes, there is a need for increasing diversity in health care, which includes the psychiatric workforce.”

“The most rewarding part of my role is being an advocate for cultural awareness and providing equitable health care services,” she says.

Rochester’s Latino population has more than tripled since the 1980s, according to the Ibero-American Action League. Nationally, Hispanic and Latino communities in the U.S. can face unique barriers to mental health care, such as a lack of cultural competence among providers, immigration status, stigma, or language barriers.

“The most rewarding part of the role is being an advocate for cultural awareness and providing equitable health care services,” she added.

She knew UR Nursing was just the right place to advance her work as an advocate for health equity.

“What stood out to me as I explored opportunities for my master's degree was the UR School of Nursing’s mission to be an inclusive environment,” Santos recalled. “The School of Nursing makes diversity, equity and inclusion efforts a priority. As a minority student, this was important to me.”

Evelyn Santos poses with a TV screen display congratulating her on her capstone project.Her LHCS capstone project focused on optimizing depression screenings among the local Latino community.

“I completed a needs assessment through a diversity, equity, and inclusion lens and implemented the utilization of iPads at my working site to capture depression screens electronically in Spanish,” she explained.

"This project provided an opportunity to improve depression screening rates among our Latino patient population, and also helped improve our collaborative decision-making strategies within the program I support.”

Santos’ graduate capstone is the latest highlight of a career defined by breaking barriers for this growing population. In addition to her role at the Lazos Fuertes Clinic, she served as a consultant to help expand UR Medicine’s Spanish-language neurology clinic, and created a guide dedicated to helping English-speaking nurses overcome language barriers that often interfere with care.

“Evelyn is a very hard worker who consistently embraces the importance of communicating in an inclusive manner, showing respect to her peers and patients during each interaction,” said Linda Migliore, MS, RN, NPD-BC, CNL, specialty director for the LHCS program.

During her time at the School of Nursing, Santos was honored with the Paul J. Burgett Nursing Student Life Award, which recognizes a graduating student who enriches the School's environment and serves as a positive catalyst for change.

Just a few months after finishing the LHCS degree, Santos accepted a promotion within the Department of Psychiatry to a new role as a quality and education nurse. She looks forward to utilizing her nurse educator role to bring diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, trauma-informed care, and the impact of adverse childhood events (ACEs) to the forefront of the department’s educational curriculum.

Learn more about the LHCS program.

Categories: Alumni, Nursing Leadership

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