Paula G. is a member of the Tule River Indian Tribe, a Yokut tribe about 30 minutes into the foothills above Porterville, California.
Growing up, access to medical care was limited to an Indian Health Services Clinic on the reservation. The clinic is a member of the California Rural Indian Health Program (CRIHP). It’s one of the reasons she wanted to be a nurse.
“Our community clinic has had a lot of turnaround. A lot of people don’t want to travel to a rural area to work,” Paula said. “The nearest trauma center for us is a little over an hour. The closest hospital is about 30 minutes away.”
The reservation recently established an ambulance team and has a local fire department that assists with medical emergencies However, Paula said anytime a trauma happens, a helicopter has to fly in to transport the individual for medical attention. Even with the medical professionals that do come to work in the clinic, Paula said it can be difficult for members of the tribe to seek care.
“A lot of the medical professionals that come here to work, they’re not from the community, and it’s really hard for our members to reach out. They’re very private,” she said. “Being comfortable with their doctors and nurses is really hard for them.”
Paula wanted to help bridge that gap and be the representation her tribe needed. She started off as a medical assistant at the clinic, where she worked for almost 10 years. During that time, Paula was slowly completing her prerequisites for becoming a nurse.
She started applying to schools nearby the reservation, but after two years of no luck, she took her search online and discovered West Coast University.
Committing to the BSN program was also committing to a two-and-a-half-hour commute to school for classes, but Paula said it was worth it. She was able to continue working practically full-time during the first 6 months of her program, an added bonus for the mom of two.
Part of what helped her transition was getting a mentor through West Coast University.
“When I first started there, I was so new because I live in a small town and going to Los Angeles, it was scary. I didn’t know anybody, and I didn’t know what the heck I was getting myself into,” she said. “My mentor called me, and we did FaceTime, talked to each other. I really enjoyed having that, and then as soon as I was able to, I became a mentor myself.”
WCU provides career guidance and assistance but cannot guarantee employment. The views and opinions expressed are those of the individuals and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs or position of the school or of any instructor or student.