Vicky Aldaz-Perry: Nursing a Community’s Young

September 2013Fanna Gamal

For Vicky Aldaz-Perry, nursing means working towards the health of entire communities, not just individual patients.

“My public health background definitely informs my nursing career,” says the San Francisco native, a graduate of UC San Francisco School of Nursing’s Family Nurse Practitioner program. “Inequities and other public health issues all impact what I do, because when you see a patient, you don’t just serve the one ailment; you look at them as a whole person, a whole family, a whole community in order to do your job.”

Community-Based Care

After graduating from UC San Francisco School of Nursing in 2010, Aldaz-Perry entered school-based care as an on-site nurse at Roosevelt Health Center at Oakland’s Roosevelt Middle School. Later, she transitioned to community-based care as an on-site nurse practitioner (NP) with Youth Heart Health Center, part of La Clínica de La Raza. The center provides free and low-cost health care to young people in the East Bay – and is especially focused on serving students who attend schools in the La Escuelita Education Center, which includes an elementary school, two high schools and a child development center. Aldaz-Perry’s patients range from ages 3 to 21.

“It’s definitely very education-based,” she explains. “Puberty, bullying, peer pressure—those are the things that come up a lot; with the 15- to 19-year-olds, it’s more about sexual health care and psychosocial needs.”

In keeping with her commitment to strengthening communities, Aldaz-Perry believes that school-based health centers are key to expanding health care access for vulnerable young people.

“For folks who have more sensitive employment, just getting a kid from the school to the clinic is hard,” she says. “You have to worry about transportation, information and even what gang’s turf you have to cross to get to your appointment.” On-site services help these families stay on top of their children’s health care needs; at the same time, these young people miss less school and have access to urgent care and assessment if they need it.

Education Opened Eyes to School-Based Care

During her time in the UCSF Master’s Entry Program in Nursing (MEPN), Aldaz-Perry spent her clinical rotations at Balboa High School in San Francisco, gaining real experience in school-based care.

“The MEPN program was the quickest and best way to get where I wanted to go,” she says. “I got an excellent education, and I was able to thrive around a mix of folks from multiple backgrounds.”

Most importantly, she got a solid foundation for the work she is doing today. “Don’t get me wrong; I’m still learning every day,” she says. “But I was able to leave UCSF, get a job and do the work well.”

She is especially grateful for the opportunity to combine her background in public health with a desire to engage directly with the unique population she works with every day.

“Youth are a very marginalized group,” she says. “A lot of them are uninsured or get dropped from their parents’ insurance and don’t know where to go.” Aldaz-Perry sees her role as bridging gaps and partnering with the young people she serves.

“I want to help them govern their own health care and make their own decisions,” she says. “They have so much potential, and it’s nice to help them realize it through this process.”

And in a society that doesn’t always embrace young people with open arms, Aldaz-Perry finds that connecting with youth takes a certain temperament. “You either like them, or you don’t,” she says. “Either way, there’s never a dull moment.”