Along with studying nursing full-time at Northern New Mexico College, Kendra Gallegos works as a scribe at the Los Alamos Medical Center and in the emergency room at the Española Hospital.
Gallegos, 22, is entering her fifth and final year of school at the College. After three years of general education classes, she earned a certified nursing assistant license.
This summer, she will take the licensed practice nurse course at the College.
She applied for the Nightingale Scholarship in February, and received an email in April from the New Mexico Center for Nursing Excellence stating she received it.
“I was so excited, I started crying,” she said in a May 11 interview, a day after the last class of her spring semester. “I was really happy for myself, but sad that it was just me. All of us that applied, deserved it.”
Theresa Lopez, an assistant at the nursing school, was the director of the program when Gallegos was admitted, and had Gallegos as a student in a pharmacology class. She said the scholarship is highly competitive, and it’s an honor for the program that Gallegos was selected for it.
“Kendra is an excellent student, conscientious, safe, compassionate and caring,” Lopez said. “Overall, she is a pleasure to have in class.”
While no other applicants at the College received the $1,000 scholarship, another 19 nursing students from around the state received it, according to a press release.
After getting the email, Gallegos called her mother, Rachel Pañe, then her fiancé, Joshua Brito.
“I was excited that my work is paying off,” Gallegos said.
The $1,000 scholarship covers 4 percent of the roughly $25,000 Gallegos expects to spend on tuition, housing, food and other expenses during her time studying.
In-state tuition and fees at public universities has increased by 237 percent since 1997, according to the U.S. News & World Report.
Gallegos is originally from Alcalde. When she was in elementary school, she wanted to become a doctor, however, as she moved through high school, financial pressures made her change priorities.
“I started becoming more realistic,” Gallegos said. “I didn’t want to leave New Mexico, didn’t want to put myself into debt, and you doubt yourself, if you can make it that far.”
But Gallegos said the scholarship is not just a drop in the bucket for her college expenses.
“Because you’re dealing with all this stress, paying for bills on the side, for gas, and little things, when you’re given $1,000, you’re really grateful for that,” she said. “Any little bit helps.”
When Gallegos and her sister Marlyne Campos became old enough to drive, Pañe, a hairstylist, bought each of them a car so they could commute to work, even though Pañe’s car had its own problems.
“It proved to me what a great feeling it is to help someone else, to be able to help somebody else, even though you barely have anything,” Gallegos said.
Pañe could not afford to help Campos through school, Gallegos said.
“We have financial aid,” Gallegos said. “I looked up to my sister when she went to school. When I saw her be able to manage her money and succeed, it really left an impression on me, ‘Hey, your sister did this, so you can do this, Kendra.’”
Gallegos went to Española Valley High School, where she met Brito.
“He’s there for those days when it’s just complete stress,” Gallegos said. “He’s there to remind me that it’s gonna be OK, and I’ve made it this far, so I can continue to go on.”
Gallegos, the first member of her family to pursue a career in medicine, hopes to work as a nurse in Española, either in pediatrics or in labor and delivery.
“I think it’s OK to leave, and get knowledge, or go wherever you want to go to school, but I’ve always wanted to specifically work here, and be close to my family, and be able to help the people that don’t really get the attention or help that they need,” she said.
Many health providers in the area are not local, Gallegos, who is from Alcalde, said.
“It’s amazing that people come from anywhere else to come help our community, but how great would it be to have people here that are from our community?” she said.
Now, she says, working in the emergency room in Española Hospital makes her even more grateful that she chose nursing school instead of medical school.
Her grandmother was an office worker and her grandfather was a painter at Los Alamos National Laboratory. They and Gallegos’s mother taught her the importance of putting others before the self.
“I’m thankful that I had a family able to supply me, encourage me and raise me on the values and ethics that contributed to the person I am today,” she said.