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Nurse connects Spanish-speaking patients to life-changing transplant care
For a patient needing a kidney transplant, the process can be daunting. If that patient doesn’t understand English, they may not even know transplant is an option.
Gladiz Martinez, clinical nurse specialist (CNS) and coordinator with the UCHealth Transplant Center in the Hispanic Clinic Program, helps Spanish-speaking patients – many of whom have been on dialysis as long as 10 years – receive organ transplants.
“When patients hug and bless you to show their appreciation, it’s so wonderful,” she said.
In addition, her outreach role involves going out into local communities and providing education about the program to dialysis units, nephrology practices and community providers. She collaborates with other health systems and organizations to improve workflows and simplify patient referral options. Through her own life experiences, Martinez relates to the obstacles many of these patients face to receive care.
“I was that child in the room interpreting for family members, trying to finagle complex anatomy words in a simplified way,” she said.
Martinez is a Colorado native whose parents immigrated from Mexico. She knows firsthand many challenges associated with social determinants of health (SDOH), conditions in places where people live, learn, work and play affecting health and quality-of-life risks and outcomes.
“Growing up, we used public transportation, and the emergency room was our primary care office as we had no health insurance,” she said. “I grew up with the same health disparities and social-economic issues that most of our transplant patients live with daily. That is the driving force that fuels my passion for growing the Hispanic Clinic Program to help underserved Latino communities in Colorado.”
She started with UCHealth in 2001 as a medical assistant at a family medicine clinic in Westminster. Over the next 20 years, with encouragement from nursing mentors with UCHealth, she obtained bachelor’s and master’s degrees in nursing. She was part of the UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital (UCH) worksite program and started as a new graduate nurse on the medical-surgical floor. Later she transferred to the perioperative areas.
Martinez was credentialed as a Level III nurse through UEXCEL, UCHealth’s clinical recognition and advancement program for nurses to develop leadership skills while continuing to practice at the bedside. Her project focused on language barriers, and she became a qualified medical interpreter.
In her undergraduate nursing school application, Martinez wrote an essay focused on helping underserved people in the Hispanic community. It emphasized limited trust, language barriers and lack of understanding that created obstacles to receiving care.
“That’s the essay that got me into nursing school – it’s been a 360-degree circle, pretty incredible,” Martinez said, reflecting on her current role with the transplant program she joined in 2021. “Transplant leaders provide me my dream job and I am so thankful.”
She was a regional perioperative educator when she learned that the Hispanic Clinic Program was being developed, and they wanted her to be part of it. Martinez serves on an 11-person team of providers, nurses, financial coordinators, and a social worker – all of whom speak both Spanish and English – in the transplant center.
Across the United States, Hispanic people represent 18.5% of the population and 18.89% of people receiving kidney transplants, according to the Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients. Hispanic people comprise the largest ethnic minority group in Colorado, at 21.8% of the population. They represent 25.84% of kidney transplant recipients through the UCHealth transplant program, a sign the Hispanic Clinic Program is making a difference for this population.
As a CNS, Martinez cares for patients with complex conditions and advance nursing practice by designing evidence-based interventions. She helps patients navigate the transplant system from the evaluation phase to preparing to receive a transplant. She’s worked with colleagues to develop resources such as discharge manuals, a Spanish-language phone number, wayfinding to the transplant center, educational videos and more. She coordinates and facilitates family nights every two months at the UCHealth campus, where people can learn about transplants and organ donation.
Martinez continues to build on her experience and plans to begin soon practicing independently as an advanced practice provider with the University of Colorado School of Medicine, managing post-op transplant care in addition to her other responsibilities.
“I am truly blessed to have the support of a beautiful family, friends, mentors, colleagues and leaders in this organization,” she said. “I would not be here without all the people who trust and believe in me. For that, I am humbled and grateful.”
You Make Extraordinary Possible Together, we recognize and honor the qualities within ourselves by shining a spotlight on how each and every one of us improve lives in big ways and small.
You Make Extraordinary Possible
Together, we recognize and honor the qualities within ourselves by shining a spotlight on how each and every one of us improve lives in big ways and small.