This year in celebration of Nurses Week, we are highlighting one of our most dedicated team members. Victoria De Leon has been with Evergreen Health since she graduated from the University at Buffalo (UB) in 2007. She started with Evergreen as an Assistant Case Manager and a few years later decided to pursue her childhood dream of becoming a nurse. She went back to school while continuing to work at Evergreen. She’s known as an excellent patient advocate who has directly contributed to positive health outcomes for some of our most vulnerable patients.
Can you tell me about the work you do at Evergreen?
I work as a registered nurse. I take care of patients’ medical needs. Well, not just their medical needs but their psychological, mental health and other needs that they have.
You work as a Bilingual Nurse speaking Spanish, right?
It’s my native language. I learned English when I moved to the United States when I was 10. I’m from the Dominican Republic.
How do Spanish-speaking patients react when they meet you?
They’re like, ‘Oh wow! Thank goodness someone speaks Spanish!’ and they feel more comfortable talking. When something psychological is going on, it’s very distressing. You’re in pain and you have to find the right words to describe that and translate what you really want to say in another language. It’s a lot of stress to put into the patient’s mind.
I hear you have a long history with Evergreen. Can you tell me more about that?
I graduated from UB with a Health and Human Services degree and this was my first job out of college. I started working as an Assistant Case Manager then I became a Case Manager. That was in 2007. As the agency grew, more opportunity came along. I started applying for different jobs and I always wanted to be a nurse so I decided in 2010 or 2011 that I wanted to go back to school to be a nurse. So, here I am!
Evergreen gave me the opportunity to work part time here while I was back in school. I like it here. They give you room to grow. It was very wonderful that they were able to accommodate me because going back to school was very demanding.
What drew you to this type of work? You said you always wanted to be a nurse.
Yeah. I always wanted to be a nurse. When I was back in the Dominican Republic, my aunt had some complications during her delivery with her first child. A nurse used to come to our house and give her IVs. As a little kid I was just like, ‘Oh my gosh, that is so wonderful! I want to do that!’ I played with dolls and pretended I was the nurse. I always wanted to be a nurse; it was my dream.
As a case manager, I wanted to help my patients on an everyday basis. I saw a lot of their psychological problems had to do with their physical—if they’re not taking care of themselves. Depression, if you’re not sleeping well. I explained to them that this one thing can cause another. Little things like not sleeping enough or vitamin D being low, people don’t realize that can impact them. You need to take care of your body to function.
Do you have any patient stories that have left an impact on you?
One in particular that I remember was a mom who had her first son when she was young and started using drugs. It was when I was a case manager. She was in an abusive relationship and just lost herself completely in that relationship. She was trying to get herself back on her feet but when you don’t have help in recovery, someone supporting you, it’s hard. There’s going to be a lot of falls. Some people just give up. Having someone there that is supportive of your recovery makes a big difference. I saw with her, being compassionate, being helpful and working on her level, she was able to recover, get a job, get an apartment and get her son back because she lost custody of him. Once everything was taken care of, once her health was in a good place, she was able to take care of herself. It takes a lot of patience and a lot of support. As a case manager, I was able to provide her support.
Even as a nurse, teaching patients to take their medication the right way and letting them know what needs to be done is essential. Education is very important when it comes to patient health. They may be taking the medication but if they’re not taking it properly, it’s not going to help them.
What is your favorite thing about working at Evergreen?
I feel like it’s a little community. That’s my favorite thing about working here. I love when patients say, ‘This is my home.’ It’s a very good feeling when you know you’re a part of something good.
What’s a recent lesson you’ve learned?
That everything is changing! The most important thing with this whole pandemic is that sometimes you want to know everything but you just have to keep yourself updated. Everything is moving. Everything is changing. You just have to adjust and learn new things. I love it. That’s what life is about. You grow!
What has working throughout COVID-19 been like?
I took it day by day, I really did. You do get thrown back by all the news that is out there but I take it day by day and just follow the guidelines. I do the best I can with what is given to me.
What do you do for self-care?
I try to stay within a routine with myself. Going to the gym and taking ‘me-time.’ I spend time with my family and my son. Seeing my son smile after a hard day just makes you think, life is not that bad!
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
I have a little hobby: I do woodworking. I’ve done a couple of tables. I started during the pandemic and watched a lot of YouTube DIY videos. It keeps me busy. Gardening, I love gardening. I do that every year.
Thank you for being an invaluable member of Team Evergreen, Victoria. Evergreen would not be the same without you!