Nursing: A Family Tradition

By Laura L. Acosta

UTEP News Service

By the time Norma Chavez-Carrillo was 21 years old, she was raising four children and her dream of becoming a nurse instead became a reality for two of her daughters – Chantelle Villareal, a UTEP graduate, and Cynthia Escalante, a graduate of Michigan State University College of Nursing. 

“I’m not really sure how but my passion was passed on to my kids somehow,” said Chavez-Carrillo, the mother of four daughters and two sons who is also raising two grandchildren.Clinical Nursing Instructor Jose Blanco teaches Charlene Jimenez how to insert an intravenous line while her mother, Norma Chavez-Carrillo, looks on. Mom and daughter are going through the UTEP nursing program together. Photo by Laura Trejo / UTEP News ServiceClinical Nursing Instructor Jose Blanco teaches Charlene Jimenez how to insert an intravenous line while her mother, Norma Chavez-Carrillo, looks on. Mom and daughter are going through the UTEP nursing program together. Photo by Laura Trejo / UTEP News Service 

More than 30 years later, Chavez-Carrillo’s dream is coming true. She enrolled in The University of Texas at El Paso’s School of Nursing this fall and already has a great study partner – her 21-year-old daughter, Charlene Jimenez, who started the nursing program with her.

“(My mom) has always been very determined in what she wants to do, and she would always talk about nursing,” Jimenez said. “And when I saw my sisters graduate and I saw what they did, it influenced me as well.”

Nursing is also the first choice for Chavez-Carrillo’s 18-year-old daughter, Chastity Jimenez, who started the nursing program at the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio this August.

For Escalante, who was the first to become a nurse in her family, seeing her mom and sisters follow down her path is a huge accomplishment.

“I’m so thrilled to see my mom finally go through it,” said Escalante, who graduated from Michigan State University in 2000 and is now a medical consultant. “It’s something that she’s always [wanted]. She pushed us to go and finish [school], but she sacrificed her time to raise us and help us finish our dream. Now she’s fulfilling hers with my two younger sisters.’”

Since she was a little girl, Chavez-Carrillo always loved science and math and wanted to become a doctor or a nurse. Then life happened.

“I had a lot of babies and had to put my dream on hold,” she recalled.

Instead, Chavez-Carrillo went to El Paso Community College and became a paralegal. She practiced for 15 years until a burst appendix sent her to the emergency room. Her recovery took longer than expected and she was laid off from work in 2009. In hindsight, Chavez-Carrillo said getting sick and losing her job were the best things that could have happened to her. She found a job with a law firm that gave her the flexibility to attend classes. With her children’s encouragement, she enrolled at UTEP in 2010.  

“We were like, ‘Mom, you should just go straight to UTEP. Number one, you are really smart and you have what it takes and you’re disciplined,’” Cynthia Carrillo remembers telling her mother. “She’s an overachiever. She’s just extremely hard on herself and works really hard, but we convinced her. We finally said, 'You need to be at UTEP.' It just happened to be that both her and my younger sister, Charlene, are in the program at the same time, which is super exciting.”

Chavez-Carrillo and Jimenez are excited about what they’re learning in class together. 

Side-by-side, mother and daughter are learning how to do health assessments, insert Foley catheters, prepare insulin injections and administer medications.     

During a recent exercise in UTEP’s Center for Simulation, Chavez-Carrillo watched closely as her daughter threaded an intravenous line into one of the patient mannequins.

“I feel like I can do anything if she’s by my side. Like if she’s there, we help each other. I don’t think that she would let me fail and I wouldn’t let her fail,” Jimenez said. 

After class, the nurses-in-training meet with their individual study groups before they head home and study together.

“It’s a lot of studying, especially for me. I have to read the book twice and Charlene probably once. She’s so much younger,” Chavez-Carrillo joked.    

But Jimenez considers her mom to be one of her best teachers, showing her how to use mnemonics to study for a test and teaching her less technical ways to figure out formulas. 

“She understands things in a different way. She’ll explain it to me in a more simple way and it’ll make much more sense,” Jimenez said.

Of course, just like any parent, sometimes getting her daughter to listen can be a challenge for Chavez-Carrillo.

“You know how young kids are, they’ll be with their phone and I’ll say, ‘Charlene I’m trying to teach you something and you’re over here texting!’” Chavez-Carrillo said with a laugh.

Jimenez also credits her mom for always making sure she’s prepared, even when it’s to the extreme.

On their first day of lab, Jimenez remembers that at her mom’s urging, they both showed up with their stethoscopes, emergency kits, blood pressure cuffs and white nursing shoes. Yet, when Jimenez looked around the room, none of their classmates had their supplies.    

“She said, ‘We need our shoes, we need to be prepared with everything you can possibly think of,’” Jimenez recalls. “And everybody was looking relaxed. It was just a health assessment.”

Chantelle Villareal, who graduated from the UTEP School of Nursing in 2004, said her sister Charlene helps to keep their mother calm.  

“My mom can be a little hard on herself and my sister is a little more laid back,” she said. “I guess it works both ways; sometimes my little sister will be the nervous one and my mom will be the one trying to calm her down. So they both complement each other well.”

Villareal is confident that both her mom and her sister will get the same great education at UTEP that she got when she was a student. She was pleasantly surprised that her mom and sister have the same instructor – Jose Blanco – that she had when she was a student her first semester in the program.

“Coming out of UTEP, it opened doors for me. I’m excited for them. It’s going to open a lot of doors for my sister and for my mom,” said Villareal, a recovery nurse who worked in the intensive care unit at Del Sol Medical Center for seven years. “[My mom] always encouraged us to go to school and I’m glad she’s finally getting her bachelor’s and a great education [at UTEP).”

Next semester, Chavez-Carrillo and Jimenez hope to be joined by their daughter- and sister-in-law, Rosetta Valles, who has applied to the UTEP nursing program.

Like Chavez-Carrillo, Valles has always wanted to be a nurse, but she also put her dream on hold while she cared for her family.

“My mother-in-law working and having a family of her own and not giving up helped me realize I too can do it,” Valles said. “Also, my mother has always worked for hospice, and seeing her work with patients planted the seed for me to work in the health care field. My husband coming from a family of nurses motivated me even more.”

For Chavez-Carrillo, the fact that she is in the nursing program is still surreal. She and Jimenez expect to graduate in two years. Jimenez wants to become a nurse anesthesiologist, while Carrillo plans to retire as a registered nurse.

“Right now, I’m still in a state of disbelief. I’m really not grasping it yet, the fact that I’m in the nursing program,” Chavez-Carrillo said. “I always wanted it so much. I know so many students wanted to get in and sometimes I feel like it’s such a great honor to have been accepted. To me, it’s unbelievable. I’m very excited that my daughter and I are together in this.”